The Haitian Revolution:From the First of the Blacks to the First of the Whites

Editor’s Note: Rapper/activist Immortal Technique (nee Felipe Coronel) has composed a lengthy editorial dissertation on the present chaos in Haiti, which has graced headlines since the 7.0 earthquake on January 22, 2010. “From the First of the Blacks to the First of the Whites – Reflections on the Haitian Revolution and Present Condition” is a delicate mixture of opinion and history. Furthermore, Immortal Technique addresses why Haiti has been perceived as cursed or that there was some “deal with the Devil” in the past. This is a two-part write up that is informative and captivation for those interested in unearthing the truth. 

“From the First of the Blacks to the First of the Whites – Reflections on the Haitian Revolution and Present Condition” By Immortal Technique

Since the recent tragedy that has befallen the proud and persevering nation of Haiti, there has been an outpouring of support followed by a few disturbing falsities being spread about the history of the island and its people. I wrote the following to shed some light on events during and around the Haitian Revolution. Please remember memorizing and reiterating should never pass for learning. Deciphering the significance of individuals and events is what truly teaches us not just about history, but also about ourselves.

 

There is a wide spectrum of beliefs behind what has caused Haiti to suffer ceaselessly over the years. Some see the problem as being mostly political, bad governance, modern day colonialism, or the perceived necessity to make an example to the world of what a successful slave revolution will get you. There are even those on the fringe who cling to an ancient superstition that the island was freed by a mythological pact with Satan. In order to shed light on the issue I am forced to go back in time. Obviously not to the beginning of occupational history, but far enough to give a realistic perspective on Haiti and it’s struggle.

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We join a story centuries in the making. It is the year 1794 and the scent of musket powder blows over all of Europe. The French Revolution may have changed the face of the world, but its unintended consequences that influenced its colonies would come to overshadow France’s own glory. It was during this year, on the 4th of February, that France’s First Republic Convention (under pressure from massive slave revolts) decided it had to transcend the stumbling efforts of the ‘enlightened monarchs’ of Europe and abolish slavery. Yet in the customary fashion of our own Declaration of Independence’s “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal,” the gesture, much like these words, became a glaring example of self-righteous insincerity. Equality, the fraternal twin brother of Independence, was aborted at the fetal stage of development and the Revolution came to betray itself.

 

Known then as “Saint Domingue”  (French for Santo Domingo), the colony that we now call Haiti, yielded great fortune to those who possessed her. It was rich with sugar, cotton, tobacco, cocoa and other valued resources. So much so that the European Superpowers of that day fought bitterly against each other to control the island and her inhabitants. After all, the African slaves living on Saint Domingue were the proverbial engines that ran the machine. From among them appeared a man who was born a slave but who would become free and lead all his countrymen toward that same destiny. He was a glitch in the matrix, an act of nature, and a mistake to be corrected in the eyes of the island’s autocratic semi-feudal society. His name was Francois-Dominique Toussaint soon to be heralded, “L’Overture.”

 

As a former servant and carriage driver, he had abstained from participating directly in previous uprisings stemming from the refusal of slave masters to honor “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” He had waited patiently and then allied himself with other rebel leaders who had risen to the task of overthrowing colonial rule. His ideas were innovative and his guerrilla tactics highly disciplined. No wonder then that he rose through the ranks of the rebellious forces so quickly.

 

Before fighting alongside the French against other colonial powers, Toussaint had been in league with the Spanish, who along with Great Britain were at war with France. The Spanish were used as a support system for his designs when white colonials refused to endorse the full rights of citizenship to free blacks given by the French edict of 1792. In other words, for Toussaint they were there to serve his vision rather than him serving theirs. Having so many different nations vying for a piece of the pie proved a difficult task to navigate. To his credit, Toussaint had managed to out-maneuver them all, cleverly using their own tactics of pitting one against another. But when Spain and England did not follow through with their promises to free slaves, he discarded his allegiance to them.

 

After grueling and hard-fought campaigns against the Spanish and British, he took control of the French Colony. Toussaint promoted reconciliation among the races, which wasn’t any easier then than it would be now. He also engaged and renegotiated better terms of trade with Britain and the new American Republic alike. Catholicism was adopted as the national religion and slavery was abolished. The news traveled around the world like lightning- the African Slaves were undergoing the course of reversing 300 years of domination.

 

As news of the Independence of Haiti was circulating, the reaction was mixed. Toussaint’s actions openly received the approval of Alexander Hamilton, who saw Europe’s weakening in the West as an opening for America’s bid for commercial supremacy. He even aided in the drafting of the precursor to the island’s first constitution in 1801. However, when Thomas Jefferson came to power, American support was reined in. Jefferson openly owned slaves and had even fathered children with the now famous girl, Sally Hemmings. But much more than his personal stake in legitimized servitude, it was the perceived international threat that most likely shaped his opinion. The surrounding colonies and his new Republic being destabilized by the idea of a successful slave revolt obviously frightened him. His assertion being that their freedom would suddenly cripple the economy built around them. He is quoted as saying that it was necessary at all costs to “confine the plague to the island.” I guess “My emancipation / don’t fit your equation.”

 

By 1801, Toussaint was in full control of Saint Domingue. In a moment of perhaps self-preserving foresight and/or genuine altruism, he advanced onto the Spanish side of the island. His army defeated the remaining white colonial powers and freed all the slaves, showing the people of color the first glimpses of freedom they’d known practically since the time of Columbus. He rejected the ancient custom that dated back to the Middle Ages, of sending his children as hostages to his ‘Suzerain’ as a symbol of fidelity. He further declared his intentions in a famous letter addressing Napoleon himself. It was titled: “From the First of Blacks to the First of the Whites.” In it he pledged his loyalty to France. He stated firmly that slavery would be utterly annihilated; that he (Toussaint) would remain governor indefinitely (a suggestion from Hamilton and then Sec. of State Pickering). Furthermore Saint Domingue would be a free and independent state. The correspondence must have come as a shock to then Consul Napoleon. It was probably the sheer audacity of a former slave proposing terms of independence, albeit in the most polite and articulate manner, that struck him. This man was obviously more dangerous than he could have ever imagined. Toussaint and his people represented something that had to be proved false no matter the cost.

 

See the very existence of their independence showed the entire human race a side of history that we are only now truly rediscovering. European society had relied mainly on creating divisions and the spread of epidemics, not simply superior military prowess, to overcome the indigenous populations of Africa and the Americas. The Haitian Revolution exposed the façade of European invincibility, and it tore away at their justification for invasion on the grounds of Christianization. The mythology of racial superiority began to take the shape of an ancient death mask from classical antiquity.

 

Napoleon (seen left) would hear no more and dispatched his brother-in-law Gen. Charles LeClerc, to the island with a huge force of infantry troops and warships. His stated intention was to secure the new state. At first confrontation ensued, but they arrived at a truce once Toussaint had been promised that the French would not attempt to reinstate slavery. However, the moment he let his guard down he was almost immediately betrayed. Toussaint and his entire family were arrested. Restoring the island to France’s control, LeClerc had Toussaint sent to prison in France. But this was just the beginning. He quietly moved to begin the process of re-enslavement. “Since terror is the sole resource left me, I employ it…destroy all the mountain negroes, men and women, sparing only children under twelve years of age,” read his report to Napoleon.

 

The French now shifted their focus to using the former so-called “Mulatto” people who Toussaint had defeated in previous military campaigns to maintain control of the island. They, the “Mulattos,” had been at odds with elements of the Revolution earlier, although they had suffered almost equally from the torments of slavery. The very concept of the “Mulatto”, that still to this day plagues the African, Latin American, Caribbean, and so Called West Indian world, merits an explanation all to itself.

 

The Latin ‘mulus,’ became the Old Spanish or Old Castillian ‘mula,’ finally evolving into the Spanish and Portuguese “Mulatto,” that symbolized the reverse anthropomorphic semblance of a human being. A mule is the physical combination of a horse and a donkey. This part is simple enough. But the symbolic nature of this has a racial connotation that tears apart our society even today. The horse symbolizes the White European, elegant, regal and highly valued. And the donkey embodies what they thought the purpose of an African/Indigenous slave should be; a beast of burden to be worked until the day that ‘it’ dies.

 

The combination of a horse and a donkey creates a species that rarely if ever is capable of reproducing. The male is always born sterile, and the female is exceptionally similar in this way. Hence the idea that nothing good can come from them. This concept then became permeated in the portrayal of the “tragic mulatto” in 19th century American literature, leading into classic Hollywood cinema. It is a theme symbolized by the downfall of a “Mulatto” or “Quadroon”/”Octoroon” attempting to pass for white. It also focused on the conflict of those trapped between two races. Those who despised and pitied their darker half and their own skin color, while needing the approval of whites to validate themselves. In most of the stories peace is only found for the said main character in death. The very definition of its existence solidified the role of White and Black in the American caste system, whose remnants we all still presently reside in. It also laid out the role of Blacks to themselves, without many of them even to this day understanding the loaded straw man argument about race posed within the terminology.

It was the Haitian Revolution that challenged the very idea of slavery and the existence of a lesser man. It put the “enlightenment” of Europeans on trial, and forced America to confront what she was becoming as opposed to what she was supposed to be. The usage of concepts like the “Mulatto” were necessary for late 18th century white society to put institutionalized racism on life support for another 150 years, and create a violent split in the psychology of Mother Earth’s first children.Part 2 on Feb 4, 2010.

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