Black History Month 2014: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Faustin I Soulouque

Emperor Faustin I Soulouque of Haiti (1849-1859) in his coronation robe

Emperor Faustin I Soulouque of the Second Empire of Haiti (1849-1859) in his coronation robe

Haiti

Of all the Haitian presidents of the nineteenth century, Emperor Faustin I Soulouque attracted the most foreign criticism, and is still considered by some historians to be “the greatest disaster the country experienced in the nineteenth century.”

In 1847, Haiti was at the end of four years of political turmoil and civil war that followed the overthrow of Jean-Pierre Boyer. The mulatto elite that had ruled Haiti since 1820 had clung to power by installing a series of black puppets in power in order to appease the restive black majority.

When the elderly figurehead Jean-Baptiste Riché died from an overdose of aphrodisiacs in 1847, the mulattoes turned to Soulouque, the head of the presidential guard in Port-au-Prince, a loyal soldier who had developed a reputation for his stupidity, plainness, and lack of ambition.

Shortly after he was installed in power, President Soulouque dismissed his mulatto ministers and installed blacks in key positions. When a lynch mob began to demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in 1848, the presidential guard opened fired on the mulatto politicians inside. The massacre spread from the palace to Port-au-Prince, where every mulatto who showed his face was shot, and from there to southern Haiti where “murder and plunder followed in every district.” Thereafter, the mulattoes were crushed for the remainder of Soulouque’s ignominous reign.

In 1849, Soulouque launched his first invasion of the Dominican Republic (which had declared its independence from Haiti in 1844), but his army fled after 500 Dominicans put up resistance at Ocoa. A second invasion followed in 1850 which was checked by diplomatic opposition from Britain, France, and the United States. In the third and final invasion in 1855, Soulouque marched into the Dominican Republic at the head of a 50,000 man army which fled at the first shot.

After his massacre of the mulattoes and the first botched invasion of the Dominican Republic, Soulouque followed in the footsteps of Dessalines and had himself crowned Emperor Faustin I of the Second Empire of Hayti. According to Philippe Girard, “the move was so sudden that all that could be found was a crown of gilded paltry cardboard.” Three years later, a more formal coronation took place:

“On 18th April 1852 Soulouque was crowned Emperor under the title Faustin I. He had no fear of exciting discontent by lavish expenditure. He paid £2,000 for his crown, and spent £30,000 for the rest of the paraphrenalia. …

A fresh constitution was naturally required, and this was a strange medley of republican and aristocratic institutions. Soulouque did not disappoint his generals, and created a nobility: four princes and fifty-nine dukes headed the list, followed by innumerable marquises, counts, and barons. This contented the chiefs, and quiet reigned for a short time.” (Spenser St. John, Hayti, or, The Black Republic, pp.95-96)

Gustave d’Alaux describes this event in his book, Soulouque and his Empire:

“The president of the Senate carried, in his hand, a crown of gilt-pasteboard, made during the night. He placed it with formal precaution, on the august head of Soulouque, whose countenance became radiant at this desirable contact. The president of the Senate, then, attached to the breast of the Emperor, a large decoration of unknown origin – passed a chain about the neck of the Empress – and, pronounced his address; to which His Majesty Faustin replied with spirit:

Vive la liberté” viva la égalité!” …

In the meantime, Faustin I, shut up in his cabinet, passed his entire time, in contemplation, before a series of engravings, representing the ceremonies of Napoleon’s coronation. Not being able to wait any longer, His Imperial Majesty had the principal merchant of Port-au-Prince called, one morning, and commanded him to order, immediately, from Paris, a costume, in every particular like that he admired in these engravings. Faustin I, besides, ordered, for himself, a crown – one for the Empress – a sceptre, globe, hand-of-justice, throne, and all other accessories, all to be like those used in the coronation of Napoleon. The finances of the Empire did not recover from these expenses for a long time; for all these objects were delivered, payed for, and what is more, used, as we shall see further on …”

… The words Sire or Emperor, in their opinion was too inexpressive, and they were substituted by – magnanimous hero, or illustrious sovereign, or illustrious grand sovereign.”

During his reign, Emperor Soulouque defaulted on foreign loans, plundered the Haitian treasury (primarily, receipts from coffee exports), and printed so much paper money that the value of the Haitian gourde, which bought five Spanish silver piasters in 1847, had depreciated to twenty Spanish silver piasters in 1859. (Girard, p.75)

Soulouque pioneered the creation of a paramilitary guard, the zinglins, to fend off challengers to his rule – the first African despot to do so, which later became the inspiration for Papa Doc’s Tonton Macoutes. He advocated afrocentrism and racial nationalism and embraced and openly practiced voodoo.

In his time, the Emperor Faustin I Soulouque was a staple of French and American cartoonists and satirists:

“In European and American eyes, no Haitian president quite exceeded Faustin Soulouque’s pomposity and ridicule. In the nineteenth century, he was a favorite of Western caricaturists and humorists alike, frequently derided as the black emperor of Haiti who aped European courts – the only emperor to serve as his own buffoon. …

Throughout his career, European newspapers and French caricaturists Cham and Honoré Daumier, presumably acting under the assumption that such an emperor should have no clothes, portrayed Soulouque as a simian-looking African clad in outrageous outfits.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, pp.73-74)

In several of the caricatures below, the deposed Soulouque arrives France where he visits the zoo, searches for an apartment in Paris, ogles white women in a theater, and is presented with the crown of Byzantium. The other caricatures depict his military defeats and flight into exile in Jamaica with the Haitian treasury.

In 1858, a revolution began in Haiti which was led by General Fabre Geffrard, the Duc de Tabara, who succeeded in deposing Emperor Soulouque in 1859. He fled to Jamaica before returning to Haiti where he died in 1867.

Note: Just as there are parallels between François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the same is true of Emperor Faustin I Soulouque and Emperor Bokassa I of Central Africa. Like Bokassa, Soulouque before him was also accused of cannibalism.

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8 Responses to Black History Month 2014: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Faustin I Soulouque

  1. Stephen E Dalton says:

    Hunter, if Emperor Faustin didn’t exist, we would have to make him up! Was this man the real life inspiration for the O’Neil play “The Emperor Jones”? I’d like to know!

  2. Mosin Nagant says:

    So this is yet another proof that whenever the ‘checks and balances’ are insufficient, the Presidency of a republic (the monarchial element of the mixed constitution) like any other form of monarchy, in cooperation with the Elite (the oligarchical element), tends to malignant tyranny, wholesale waste and destruction.

    ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us’.

  3. Mosin Nagant says:

    We may laugh at the Negroes of Haiti obeying a king like that, but what are we obeying?

    Re: monarchy: Absolute power leads to absolute corruption, and the long-term effects may last a thousand years. Thanks to the excessive power of some Frankish kings, the Great Apostasy was impelled, leading to the great East-West Schism and loss of the eastern Pentarchates to Islam.

  4. Lynda says:

    If you are interested in facts, Mosin, the Christian East fell to Islam while France was a relatively young Christian nation – ruled as Christian nations are by their monarchies. By the time Charlemagna was crowned in the 8th century (distinguished for his efforts in the crusades against Islamic occupation of Europe), the Christian East had fallen.

    The loss of the Christian East has more to do with their pervasive acceptance of the Arian heresy than the French monarchy. Great doctors of the Church: St Athanasius, St Gregory Nazianzus, St Gregory of Nyssa all laboured across the diocseses of the East to restore them to the faith. At that time most Christians in the East who held the true doctrine against Arius were worshipping outside the ecclesiastical structures. As Athanasius stated: “They have the buildings but we have the faith.” (Rather like today), but his was in the fourth century. Even after the Council of Nicea – it would take centuries to repair the damage of the Arian heresy.

    St Remi, Apostle to the Franks baptised the King of the Franks, Clovis I in the 5th century – 496 A.D. And his Frankish nation followed him into baptism. Thus began the founding and establishment of that Christian nation state under its monarchy. Reading the jewelled stones of the St Chaplle, the royal chapel, at St Denys in Paris, it is clearly monumentalised in stone that Clovis was a descendent of the Patriarch Judah through Zerah. This is commemorated upon the Jesse Trees of the French royal houses descending from Clovis who was geneologically a son of David. He ruled the Franks as a Christian monarch. The Church was the basis of the social order of his nation which was under Apostolic government from Rome which sent them bishops. The nations of the Franks and the Bretons were baptised shortly after the Frankish king and the diocseses were established .

    It is difficult to see how in your mind the conquest of the Christian East – Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, SE Anatolia in the 7th century in any way relates to the founding of the Christian nation of France about a century previously.

    If anything the Franks, led by their nobility, distinguished themselves in the wars against the Islamic pincers which also conquered Spain and Portugal in the 7th century.

    As usual, Mosin, you busy, busy, busy on this messageboard blathering on subjects about which you know nothing: the history of the Church, the history of Europe, the Reconquista and the wars of Islam against the West – enabled I might add by the mint of Babylonian Jewry.

    Do you have any occupation other than writing text walls on this messageboard?

  5. Mosin Nagant says:

    The loss had begun but was certainly not over in the eighth century, Lynda, as more Easterns decided submission to the Arabs was preferable to fighting for the Italo-Roman and Byzantine-Roman monarchs and elites who oppressed them. Bosnia was one of the last to renounce loyalty, in the fifteenth century. None of it had to happen without the arrogance, corruption and abuse. Regarding Arianism in the east, the Visigoths and Franks weren’t completely orthodox either, hence their imposition of filioquism, and eventually the Schism. YOU don’t ‘blather on about subjects about which you know nothing’. It is clear that you DO KNOW, but obfuscate, in your Propaganda. You are correct however about war finance by Babylonian Jewry. How does this relate to Haitian monarchy? You adore monarchial despotism, but we despise and resist it.

  6. Lynda says:

    Unlike you, Mosin, I make statements that are easily disprovable by reference to facts.

    You have not refuted a single one of my statements with your twaddle. But you have put up more text wall in addition to all the comment threads you have already derailed with your inanity.

  7. Mosin Nagant says:

    ‘I make statements that are easily disprovable by reference to facts’

    I agree.

  8. Stephen E Dalton says:

    Lynda, you did an excellent job in trying to set poor ol’ Mosin straight, but sadly, his mind is already made up, so it’s useless to confuse him with the real facts.

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