In A Colony of Citizens: Revolution & Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804, Laurent DuBois focuses on the French Revolution as it unfolded in the colony of Guadeloupe in the eastern Caribbean.
The book shows how free negroes and slaves inserted themselves as active participants into the French Revolution and radicalized the political culture of republicanism to bring about emancipation and racial equality in Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue.
OD readers are already familiar with the French Revolution in Saint-Domingue and how it led to the destruction of the wealthiest colony in the world and the creation of Haiti in 1804 which is now the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
It is less well known that the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue in 1791 led to a British invasion in December 1793 which caused the French National Convention to abolish slavery throughout the whole French Empire in February 1794. This led to the temporary abolition of slavery in Guadeloupe and French Guiana later in 1794.
In my review of Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean, we saw how the American Revolution divided British America along ideological lines between royalists and republicans, and how American independence shattered the British Empire and artificially severed South Carolina from her sister colonies in the British West Indies.
In much the same way, the French Revolution polarized French America along ideological lines between royalists and republicans. It led to the destruction of Saint-Domingue, Haitian independence, and most importantly, to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 which severed Louisiana from her sister colonies in the French West Indies.
Just as a common British civilization once stretched from Barbados to South Carolina, a common French civilization used to exist between Lower Louisiana and the French Caribbean. These colonies were all French-speaking, race-based slave societies engaged in plantation agriculture and were commonly governed by King Louis XIV’s Code Noir.
By 1804, the Golden Circle was broken a second time: Saint-Domingue was annihilated, Louisiana was absorbed into the United States, the future Southern states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma would be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, and Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana would remain part of the French Empire.
Guadeloupe provides an excellent counterpoint to Haiti: the triumph of slavery vs. freedom and civilization vs. barbarism.
From 1789 until 1804, Guadeloupe and Haiti were headed along the same trajectory. There were slave insurrections in both colonies in 1791 (Saint-Domingue) and 1793 (Guadeloupe). There were failed British interventions in both colonies in 1793 (Saint-Domingue) and 1794 (Guadeloupe). Slavery was officially abolished by the National Convention in both colonies in 1794. Plantation agriculture collapsed as a result in both colonies. The majority of the White population fled the chaos in both colonies and became émigrés.
In both colonies, the conflict was started by the ideological polarization between metropolitan White royalists and republicans, and the status of the free negroes (the free “gens de couleur”) in the colonies in light of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The White majority in both colonies sided with the royalists and called in the British.
In both colonies, most of the ex-slaves were transformed into serf-like “cultivateurs” attached to plantations by authoritarian commissioners (Sonthonax and L’Ouverture in Saint-Domingue, Victor Hugues in Guadeloupe), while much of the rest became soldiers and sailors. The blacks became ascendant in both colonies and expelled their French commissioners (General Hédouville in Saint-Domingue in 1798, Desfourneaux and Admiral Lacrosse in Guadeloupe in 1799 and 1800).
After the Treaty of Amiens was officially signed in 1802, Napoleon dispatched naval expeditions to reconquer and restore slavery in both rebellious colonies: General Leclerc sailed to Saint-Domingue in December 1801, General Richepance sailed to Guadeloupe in April 1802.
In both colonies, the ex-slaves and free negroes resisted the French reconquest. In both colonies, the ex-slaves and free negroes ripped the white out of the French tricolor and attempted to exterminate all the blancs. Finally, in both colonies huge numbers of French troops succumbed to yellow fever and malaria.
In Guadeloupe, the smaller island in the eastern Caribbean which is only 629 square miles, the French defeated the rebellious blacks led by Louis Delgrès who committed mass suicide on the slopes of the Matouba volcano.
In Saint-Domingue, the far larger colony in the western Caribbean which is 10,714 square miles, the French defeated and captured Toussaint L’Ouverture, but Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe resumed the rebellion and triumphed after the French troops sickened and died and reinforcements were cut off after Britain and France returned to war in 1803.
The triumph of the French in Guadeloupe meant the return of racialism, slavery, white supremacy, and colonialism: free blacks were stripped of their citizenship and the “cultivateurs” were restored to a condition of slavery. Interracial marriage was banned and citizenship was restored to the white basis. The exiled planters returned to Guadeloupe, resumed their mastery over the blacks, and rebuilt the slave based economy which would endure until 1848.
Alternatively, the defeat of the French in Saint-Domingue meant the triumph of anti-racism, black supremacy, liberty and equality, and Haitian independence. The blancs of Saint-Domingue were exterminated and the exiles never returned. Haiti officially became the world’s first black republic and Whites were banned from owning property under the Haitian constitution until the American occupation in 1917.
In 2012, Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France, a member of the eurozone, and has an average per capita income of $21,780. In contrast, Haiti remains an independent country, and in the 208th year of free society has an average per capita income of $1,235, a fact which caused Sean Penn to slam the whole fucking world for Haiti fatigue at the Cannes Film Festival.
As we have already seen, the value of Haiti’s exports in 1995 were far short of Saint-Domingue’s exports in 1788. Whereas Saint-Domingue produced three-fourths of the sugar consumed in the entire world in 1788, Haiti has been reduced to importing its sugar from the United States.
Under free society, independent Haiti retrograded so far in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that knowledge of the waterwheel and the flume were gradually forgotten, and the black population returned to using the ox and beam to grind sugarcane to distill it into rum, a pre-Roman level of technology. Rape was recently banned in 2005 although the culture of rape has yet to be eradicated.
What’s the moral of the story?
Like Napoleon, I think it is the exact opposite of the negrophile conclusions of Laurent DuBois who desperately tries to sew a silk purse out of a sow’s ear in A Colony of Citizens: Black Republican ideological fanaticism destroyed France’s richest colony and Guadeloupe would have become a second Haiti if the Richepance expedition had not succeeded.
The moral of the story is that the Golden Circle was poorly governed by foreign metropoles (London, Paris, Madrid, and Washington) and the readiness of the French creoles to side with the British illustrates that all the blancs of the Caribbean slave societies shared a common racialist culture and common economic interests and would have been infinitely better served in a Union of their own.
The prosperity of the Caribbean slave societies – whether British, French, or Spanish, which primarily enriched Europe – proved to be an intolerable affront to the liberal republican values of metropolitan Whites in France, Britain, and if you include Dixie, the northern United States.
The unquenchable desire of these liberal fanatics in the metropole to force hierarchical slave societies to conform to their Enlightenment-based universalist and egalitarian ideological grid pattern destroyed the prosperity of what had previously been the richest region of the Americas.
In the South and the British and French Caribbean, Whites asserted the need for “particular laws” (aka states’ rights) to preserve their accustomed prosperity and civilization. In both cases, the metropoles used force to extend their own liberal republican laws over slave societies, which resulted in precisely the disastrous social and economic consequences that the indigenous Whites had predicted.
In 1848, France experienced another revolution, and the tricolor would come back to the French Caribbean under the Second Republic. Within months of the 1848 Revolution, Victor Schoelcher (the French abolitionist counterpart of William Lloyd Garrison) would succeed in abolishing slavery in the French West Indies.
Laurent DuBois opens A Colony of Citizens with an introduction about the “sans-papier” movement in France. He traces the origins of the struggle of present day French illegal aliens to gain French citizenship, who in this case happen to be participating in voodoo ceremonies in Paris, back to the first racially integrated elections in French history which occurred in the French Caribbean during the French Revolution.
He concludes the book with a tour of the French Panthéon in Paris where Toussaint L’Ouverture of Saint-Domingue, Louis Delgrès of Guadeloupe, and the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher are now honored as heroes of the Republic.
The structure of the book seems designed to raise the question: is the French Republic the enemy of the French nation? Is the American Republic the enemy of the American nation? To what extent is the Enlightenment’s ideology of modern liberal republicanism and the discourse of “human rights” responsible for the existential crisis of the West?
These thought provoking questions were first raised and answered in Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue during the Reign of Terror.
Note: In the PBS documentary Égalité for All below, the author Laurent DuBois discusses the French Revolution in Saint-Domingue and the French Caribbean.