Early Conditions in Haiti
The economy was based on large plantations on which slavery was prevalent.
The Sugar Plantations were primarily owned by the French and the Grand Blancs, who subjected the slaves to hard work and treated them poorly. The Grand Blancs sat at the top of society, followed by Petite Blancs, and then free, colored people. Slaves, predictably, were at the bottom.
This class system and economic structure were symptoms of the Haitian Revolution, as they laid the foundation for unrest amongst the slaves.
Antique Sickle used for Sugar Harvesting
The Start of the Revolution
From the beginning, slaves were treated harshly and were forced to work in deplorable conditions, creating the foundation for large-scale revolt. This contributed to the rising fever of the revolution. As slaves became more and more disillusioned with their role in society, tensions became predictably higher.
Letter to the Citizens of Color and Free Negroes of Saint-Domingue (1791)
The slave revolt was fueled by rumors that the French King put an end to slavery through this document.
"You were men; you are now citizens and reintegrated to the plenitude of your rights. From this day forward you will participate in the sovereignty of the people. The decree that the National Assembly rendered in your regard on this subject is not a favor, for a favor is a privilege, and a privilege is an injustice, and these words must never again soil the Code of the French. In assuring you the exercise of political rights we have paid a debt. To fail in this would have been a crime on our part and a stain on the constitution"(Grégoire, Henri).
France's edict is another contribution to the idea of a "rising fever." Now, not only were the slaves disillusion with their masters, but they had reason to believe that they deserved freedom.
The Revolution (1791-1804)
After learning of France's order, the slaves believed that they had finally been granted freedom. However, the Grands Blancs denied them equality. This led to violent conflicts and slave revolts, known as the Haitian Revolution. This was the crisis, or the climax of the revolution. The Grand Blanc were no longer seen as capable rulers of the country, and so they were forcibly removed from their positions by an incensed slave class.
Haitian Revolution Flag
After successfully revolting, the slaves created a new flag without the French symbol to display that they were now an independent society.
The Revolution slogan was " Liberté ou la Mort," meaning Liberty or Death.
As the leader of Haitian Revoltuion, Toussaint was a military genius and a political mastermind. He was responsible for the slaves' success in battles and was a key figure in the establishing of the Republic of Haiti. Toussaint represented the "convalescence" of the Haitian Revolution. Under his rule, the republic entered a state of momentary calm. He promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony and negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States.
Significance of the Revolution
Unlike the cases of many other states after revolution, the post-revolution state of Haiti enjoyed long-term independence. Despite Toussaint's tenure only lasting for around 2 years, his work was carried on by his lieutenant, Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence in 1804.
Some lasting impacts of the revolution are as follows:
The Haitian Revolution was the only slave revolt which led to the founding of a state.
It is generally considered to be the most successful slave rebellion in the Americas.
The success of the revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World.