How the Haitian Revolution Took Down Slavery in the West – Part 2 : The Great Clash L’Ouverture vs. Napoleon


On August 22, 1791, the enslaved people of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) on the western half of Hispaniola rebelled. Inspired by the French revolution, and angered by generations of abuse, the enslaved began slaughtering whites with impunity. Toussaint was nearly fifty years old at the time and married with a family, farming a small plot of land and running a plantation for his former enslaver.


At first, Toussaint was uncommitted and hesitated for weeks until he helped his former employer escape from the wrath of the black forces. The rebels killing the Europeans and the mixed-race people they perceived as loyal to the enslaved and burned their plantations to the ground.

His decision to join the rebellion wasn’t only driven by the desire to defend his way of life or his family. Touissant was deeply influenced by his Catholic faith, which condemned slavery and inspired by the enlightenment philosophers such as Henri Christophe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke who wrote of the equality of man and the inalienable right to freedom and liberty.

He quickly understood the rebel leaders lacked tactical and strategic training and he scorned their willingness to compromise with European extremists. Gathering an army of his own, Toussaint trained his followers in the tactics of guerrilla warfare and military strategy. In 1793, he gave himself the moniker L’Ouverture, a French name meaning “opening the way” as a representation of his tactical ability to lead and declared himself a military leader.

In the same year, warfare between France and Spain provided an opportunity for L’Ouverture to form a treaty with the Spanish, who controlled the eastern side of the island of Hispaniola. The following year, France abolished slavery in the region. L’Ouverture then joined the French military and helped to plot against the British and Spanish in attempts to take over the island. Through a combination of political cunning and brilliant military maneuvers, L’Ouverture gained control of the whole island and sought to gain French support for his authority. In an 1801 constitution, he named himself as a leader for life of a free, autonomous, multiracial Saint-Domingue.


As the new leader of Haiti, Toussaint L’Ouverture wrote a constitution for Haiti. Napoleon said of that constitution, &” The constitution you made while including many good things, contains some that are contrary to the dignity and sovereignty of the French people.” Of course, France could not accept the self – governance of its former colony and the enslaved.

According to Randall Robinson, Founder of the advocacy organization TransAfrica, “Haitian slaves were blessed with an accident of leadership genius in the special gifts of L’Ouverture.” Many comments on his prowess as a military leader, which is even more incredible because his skills were entirely natural – not
learned in any formal (or even informal) way. Enslaved his entire life (until the rebellion), Toussaint L’Ouverture proves that great skill can be found in any man, even one denied all opportunity to develop his God-given talents. It would have been amazing to see where his skills and abilities could have taken him if he had been given the tools and opportunities that only training and education providers.

France, now under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, sent a large force to apprehend Toussaint and restore the plantation slave system. After many weeks of fighting, General Charles Leclerc captured L’Ouverture and deported him to the French Alps. With Toussaint L’Ouverture removed from power, Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that slavery be reinstated in all the French colonies in the Americas in 1802. Although Louverture’s arrest began a period of French management of the island, the French victory was short-lived. By 1803 rebel forces were again victorious and in 1804 the new and independent Republic of Haiti emerged and has remained a free and independent country henceforth.


PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.


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