Essays in this section:
Overview Essay on the Haitian Revolution
Resistance and the Haitian Revolution
Social Triggers of the Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution was the result of a long struggle on the part of the slaves in the French colony of St. Domingue, but was also propelled by the free Mulattoes who had long faced the trials of being denoted as semi-citizens. This revolt was not unique, as there were several rebellions of its kind against the institution of plantation slavery in the Caribbean, but the Haitian Revolution the most successful. This had a great deal to do with the influence of the French Revolution, as it helped to inspire events in Haiti. The Haitian Revolution would go on to serve as a model for those affected by slavery throughout the world.

There were three distinct classes in St. Domingue. First, there were the Whites, who were in control. Then there were the free Mulattoes, who straddled a very tenuous position in Haitian society. While they enjoyed a degree of freedom, they were repressed by the conservative White power structure that recognized them only as being people of color. Next came the slaves who, in Haiti suffered under some of the harshest treatment found in the Caribbean. Slaves in Haiti were legally considered to be property of the public and with little choice, yielded obedience. The master provided for the barest necessities of life for his slave "while he secures himself from injury or insult by an appeal to the laws." (Source 1, p. 406) The conditions in Haiti at this time were ripe for a Revolution and the only thing lacking was the proper action, which would soon come in the form of the French Revolution and a man named Toussaint, who after a brief delay, sprang to action and led one of the most successful insurgencies in history.

The Mulattoes in Haiti faced a precarious situation in Haiti, even though they did possess their freedom, in a limited sense. Upon reaching manhood, Mulattoes were required to enlist for a mandatory three-year term in the military establishment known as the marechaussée. Its purpose was to arrest fugitive Negroes, protect travelers and even to collect taxes, all in an effort to have the marechaussée "rendered instrumental in the hands of the magistracy in carrying into execution the decisions of the law…In short, it was a three year’s guard on the public tranquility." (Source 1 – p. 406) Upon completion of this term, Mulattoes were then forced to serve in their local militia without compensation. They were also required to provide their own supplies for as long as it was deemed necessary and could only be released from this service if it was deemed that their presence was no longer necessary.

Free Mulattoes were further disgraced by being outlawed from holding office and were totally excluded from Haitian society. While a scant few of these laws were not enforced, there was enough latitude that "others, who thought proper to gratify private revenge, had only to wait an opportunity after they had given provocations." (Source 1 – p. 407) This meant that the free Mulattoes had been provoked to such a degree that some of them sought revenge on those that had disgraced them. Mulattoes were allowed to own land, but as Coke notes, this was done with the realization that society’s restraints on Mulattoes made it highly unlikely that they could do anything with that land.

The French Revolution furnished the Mulattoes and slaves with an opportunity and an inspiration after having witnessed the successful insurrection in France against the government’s long-standing denial of equal representation of the Commons to that of the Nobility and Clergy. This was such a revolution in the structure of French society that its news spread like wildfire and was exactly the stimulus the slaves and Mulattoes in Haiti needed to inspire their revolt. The Governor of Haiti, Mon. Duchilleau, sought to slow down the process of insurgency in an effort to give the French government more time to formulate a policy on slavery in the Caribbean, as well as for the political representation of the colonies in the National Assembly. However, his efforts to stall were not successful as the Haitian Revolution grew in scope and participation, eventually bringing slavery in Haiti to an effective end.

The radical slave revolt in St. Domingue occurred before the most turbulent years of the French Revolution. This reflects just how bad things in St. Domingue were, and also shows that though some inspiration was needed to spark the slave revolt in St. Domingue, it was not necessary for those there to see how the French Revolution played out, as they were not concerned with the consequences of the revolution, they were simply interested in the ideas put forth by it. Now that the inspiration for the revolt in St. Domingue was found, a leader was needed to take charge of the insurgency, and that leader was Toussaint.

Toussaint was the son of an educated slave who would go on to lead the most significant and successful slave rebellion and history, partly inspired by the developments that occurred simultaneously in France. Although at first he was uncommitted to the revolutionary goal, events in France would soon inspire him to take action. As a leader, Toussaint was nothing less than inspirational, taking of the hundreds of slaves and free Mulattoes who were revolting. Having found local leaders of the rebellion to be inept, he formed his own army, inspiring hundreds to join him and displayed an impressive talent for designing and leading militaristic strategies and tactics that would enable him to make the slave insurgency in St. Domingue one of the most successful in history.

In conclusion, the circumstances in Haiti just before the French Revolution were prime for an insurrection to occur. Lacking a clear and defined political authority, the White colonists were unable to contain adequately the rebellion that they had been forcing upon themselves for years. Their contemptible treatment of Negroes and Mulattoes in Haiti sped up the progress of the cause of the abolition of slavery in Haiti. The excesses of that contemptible treatment is the very reason why the Haitian Revolution was so successful: the treatment of slaves and Mulattoes in Haiti was so bad that it forced the most violent and ultimately, the most successful slave insurrection in history. The French Revolution provided the necessary spark for the revolution in Haiti to occur: it was the inspiration the cause of the abolition of slavery in Haiti needed to actualize its goals.

Coke, Thomas. A History of the West Indies.
Printed for the author, London, 1811.

Edwards, Bryan. The History of the West Indies.
Piccadilly Press, London, 1801.