Toussaint L'Ouverture was the Leader of the Haitian Revolution, a leader who's political strategies and fighting abilities earned him eloquent nicknames such as:
This biography is our continuous efforts and commitment to bring the best of Haiti's history to the world, but needless to say that the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture is too vast to be contained within the margins of any biography or book.
Toussaint had received a rare gift for a black kid at the time, the privilege of learning how to read and write. He received his education from his god-father, an old freed slaves name Pierre Baptiste.
So small in stature and weak led to people calling him "Fatras Baton" although he would be known later in life for his stamina and prowess. Toussaint L'Ouverture was one of the marginal privileged slaves, not only to have been taught how to read and write, he was fortunate to have as master, the kind-hearted French planter François-Antoine Baillon de Libertat. François-Antoine had a great affection for Toussaint L'Ouverture; he always had been impressed by his intelligence and quick learning abilities. Unlike the rest of the slaves, he gave Toussaint L'Ouverture the responsibilities of overseeing the plantation and taking care of the horses, instead of working in the rough conditions of the sugar cane fields, where ants alone, which are attracted to the sugar canes' roots, could almost eat you alive. He made him his coachman, a very important role, since coachmen usually carried messages for their masters, alone and on their own responsibility. Toussaint's love for horses, made him a notable equestrian; he would ride horses throughout Cap-Haitian at the admiration of his master and all the slaves, Toussaint had also acquired famous skills in veterinary medicine from the other African slaves who were Vodou practitioners, therefore very knowledgeable of the medicinal power of plants. Although Toussaint L'Ouverture was well off in contrast to the rest of the slave population in Saint Domingue, he was still a slave; another man's property. Something that Toussaint L'Ouverture was determined to change. He famously quoted.
At the age of 33, Toussaint L'Ouverture earned his freedom from his master. He received a small plot and some slaves, as was the norms when freeing a negro. He became the owner of a property consisted of sixteen "Carreaux" or 64 acres; most of it planted in coffee and staples, and became the master of 13 slaves. Not only was Toussaint thankful for the treatments he had received from his master growing up, but also for granting him freedom. In a letter later sent to the French directory in 1797, Toussaint credits Bayon de Libertat with having set him free.
" Brothers and friends. I am Toussaint L'Ouverture; perhaps my name had made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance, I want Liberty and Equality to reign in Saint Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourself to us, brothers and fight with us, for the same cause. Your very humble, and obedient servant Toussaint L'Ouverture. "
These were the odds that Toussaint L'Ouverture, this ugly and untrained negro, who could barely say two words of french had to fight against, and would ultimately win.
Just weeks after Toussaint introduction to the escaped slave maroons, one of the most important uprising in the Haitian Revolution happened; Bois Caiman. It was previously believed that the Vodou ceremony of Bois Caiman was organized by Bookman, but although Bookman was the one who presided over the ceremony, it was Toussaint L'Ouverture who instigated the idea among the slaves. One of the reason for Toussaint's absence during the actual ceremony, was because he was known to be a devout Catholic, and did not want people to associate him with Vodou. The French General Kesserveau who was in charge for the investigation of the massacre that resulted from Bois Caiman, where nearly 2.000 french masters were killed by stabbing, beheading, beating and poisoning, made the following accusation against Toussaint L'Ouverture:
Toussaint L'Ouverture was an exemplary mastermind; a potent but invisible presence. Not only did he nominated two other soldiers from the men whom he was training to higher posts then himself, he chose to be their secretary. He pretended to be illiterate and never signed a document himself. He always had someone in charge of that task. A role as a deeply secret co-conspirator would help to explain how Toussaint was able to remain quietly and calmly unmolested at Bréda, where many died after the eruptions, including Bookman, the voodoo priest who presided over the ceremony.
After helping his former master fled to the eastern part of Hispaniola, known as Santo-Domingo at the time, he returned to the mountains, where he would spend the next couple of months, teaching both himself and the slaves, the art of fighting. Among them were soldiers that would be critical in the years to come. Such as Jean Jacques Dessalines and Capois La Mort.
On December 1791, Toussaint led his men into their first mission. They successfully captured over 100 powerful white businessmen in the city of Cap-Haitien. The slaves were quick to demand the killing of them all , butToussaint forbade the idea and reminded his soldiers that they were fighting under him, and therefore will not let them undermine his authority. Alone, He rode his horse to the colony's governor general, Philibert François Rouxel viscount de Blanchelande's
headquarter and made him an offer.
The release of the captures, in exchange for a ban on the use of whips on slaves, an extra non-working day besides Sunday, and freedom for a handful of leaders. The Governor General, laughed at him, and vehemently opposed such frivolous ideas. The fact that Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave, had enough courage to come up with such a demand from the governor General, was outstanding. Even though the Governor, declined such an offer, he was impressed by Toussaint L'Ouverture character.
The next day, with his soldiers and the 100 French prisoners, Toussaint again went to the Governor General's headquarter. Seeing the prisoners might help the Governor change his mind, he thought. But he was quick to realize that he didn't have a chance, when the guards, refused to even let him in. Affronted, Toussaint soldiers' again demanded the killings of the prisoners. Despite the growing dissatisfaction towards him, Toussaint ordered the release of all 100 captured.
A few months later, Toussaint L'Ouverture, with his men, crossed the border and went to Santo-Domingo. The part of Hispaniola that the Spanish occupied, but were still having trouble keeping the English completely away. Toussaint made them an offer, the freedom of his men, munitions and protection of his small army for his help in fighting off the English that still occupied portion of Santo Domingo; Toussaint also instigated the idea of reclaiming the French part of the island for Spain. He did not ask for the liberation of all slaves in Saint Domingue, he figured that Spain would reject his offer on the accounts of who would work the plantations if their get successful on reclaiming the eastern French part of Hispaniola, it was no secret that the wealth of the French occupied half of Hispaniola was the result of slaves labor. They rejected the offer anyways, without their approval, Toussaint decided to engage his soldiers in many fights against the English, of which he had won many.
Something that the Spanish were trying to do for years, was done by the former slaves under the command of Toussaint L'Ouverture in about a month. Impressed, the Spaniards not only agreed to help him trained his soldiers and provided him with supplies, they also made him a General of an important garrison in the Spanish Army!
The news spread like wild fire across the entire Island.
The very next day something enormous happened in French Saint Domingue.
Following the french revolution, the French parliament, after many lobbying by many in France and in the colony of Santo Domingo for the rights of people of color, parliament decided to hold a special assembly to discuss the rights of the people of color and slaves.
The French Parliament wanted to have present during this famous assembly, some people of colors from its most valuable colony, Saint Domingue, which also happened to be a very multi racial society. During French colonisation, Santo Domingo was populated by 3 classes of inhabitants, divided by the color of their skin. The white colonists at the top, the free black slaves at the bottom. The lowest class was mainly of African born, they numbered the other races by a ration of 10 to 1. Congressman Lacroix-Eure-et-Loire made the following famous introduction of Bellay, a Negro slave who had purchase his freedom and Hills a Mullato, they were selected to represent Saint Domingue during the assembly.
"The Assembly has been anxious to have within it some of those men of color who have suffered oppression for so many years. Today it has two of them. I demand their introduction to be marked by the President's fraternal kiss."
"When drawing up the Constitution of the French people, we paid no attention to the unhappy Negroes. Posterity will bear us great reproach for that. Let us repair the wrong- let us proclaim the liberty of the Negroes. Mr President, do not suffer the convention to dishonor itself by a discussion"
And then came the most significant decree passed by any legislative body in human history in over a millennium. Parliament shockingly had adopted what they called the Declaration of Man and of the citizens, a decree that declares slavery abolished in all the colonies, and in consequences, the parliament declared that all men without distinction of color, domiciled in the colonies, are free, French citizens, and enjoy all rights assumed under the constitution.
The minister of Marine was then dispatched to the colonies to inform the inhabitants of the "happy news".
Etienne Lavaux a very kind white frenchmen who was appointed governor of the colony following the slaves insurrection, he had always been against the brutal treatments of the slaves; when the news broke that France had signed the declaration of men and of the citizens, Lavaux was quick to order a public announcement to make this grand official announcement, that all slaves will soon be free.
When the news of France's Declaration of Man and of the Citizens reached Toussaint, he immediately abandoned his post in the Spanish Army and paid allegiance to the French Republic and its ideals of freedom. Ideals that Toussaint would later die for.
Why should he continue to fight for the Spanish crown when now the French Republic gives freedom to his fellow brothers slaves? Little did Toussaint know that the abolition of slavery through a decree was not going to be as easy as it sounded.
When Toussaint paid allegiance to the French Republic, so did his armies of thousands of men, as well as the port city of Gonaives which he was holding on behalf of Spain. He then purged the army and the city of all Spanish supporters, not killing them, but exiling them to the Spanish side of the island if they refuse to adhere to the French republic. They were many discontent among his own troop about his new position. Among them Jean Francois and Biassou, the two men who had mentored him when he first joined the revolution. And one of the most powerful soldier to have worked under him, Andre Rigaud, had now join alliance with a racist french general and managed to kidnap the french governor Lavaux and appointed himself as the new governor. Toussaint and his troop soon arrived in the city of Cap Francais, rescue the governor and drove Villate and Rigaud out of town.
Following the heroic rescue of the governor by Toussaint Louverture and his men, he was promoted to commander of the West Province two months later, and by 1797 he was the top ranking officer in the colony. Lavaux went on to appoint Toussaint Lieutenant Governor, announcing at the same time that he would do nothing without his approval. To which Louverture replied "After God, Laveaux."
Lavaux's abolition of slavery after the Declaration of Man and of Citizens made Toussaint sincerely loved him, and over the years the two had developed a true close friendship. Toussaint, infinitely suspicious, and very reserved, had absolute faith in Laveaux and never trusted any other man, black, white or brown. Laveaux's letter to Tousaint always end with "to my most intimate friend, Toussaint."
And when the two have disagreement over policies, as they did sometimes, Toussaint would say " I shall aways receive with pleasure the reprimands that you address to me. When I deserve them it will be a proof of the friendship that you have for me."
A letter sent to Laveaux by Toussaint perhaps highlights the most how much love and respect Toussaint had for his boss, and how loyal he was to the man who had giving him so much power over the years.
"Yes General, Toussaint is your son. You are dear to him. Your tomb will be his, and he will support you at the peril of his life. His arms and his head are always at your disposal, and if even it should happen to him to fall, he will carry with him the sweet consolation of having defending his father, his virtuous friend and the cause of liberty."
Toussaint, a former slave, was now the second most powerful man in the richest colony in the world, and he had no resentment towards any racial groups. In his new role of Lieutenant-governor he made many important official appointments; and many of them where white french men.
" I have made Guy, military-Commandant, and Dubuisson his adjutant. These are two brave Frenchmen who have contributed very much to converting their fellow citizens..."
"I have confided with confidence the administration to Jules Borde" a white man " I believe he is a good republican, and who possesses the necessary ability to carry out this duty. He has the good will of his fellow citizens who approve of my choice." He recommended another white creole "... and has conducted himself honorably. I feel certain of his civism." But the majority of Toussaint's rank-and-file were Africans, former slaves born out of the colony, unable to speak two words of french, over 30.000 of them by the year 1796. While toussaint had no resentment however, he did not trust the whites at all, he knew that many were secretly in favor of slavery; but the blacks were so backwards that Toussaint had to use the whites.
The whites had no choice but to accept the new status quo. Throughout 1795 and 1796, Louverture was also concerned with re-establishing agriculture and keeping the peace in areas under his control. In speeches and policy he revealed his belief that the long-term freedom of the people of Saint-Domingue depended on the economic viability of the colony. He enforced harsh labor policies, forcing the blacks to return to the plantations, not for free, but they must work "Work is necessary" said Toussaint "it is a virtue, it is for the general good of the state" His regulation were very strict. The laborers were sent to work 24 hours after he assumed control of any district. "The republic has no use for dull or incapable men."
In September 1796, elections were being held in France to choose new colonial representatives and Toussaint started to encourage his friend and his superior, Governor Lavaux, to leave for France and represent Saint Domingue. Toussaint showered him with compliments about all the things that he had done in behalf of the blacks and that he would be their best voice in the metropole. Historians continue to disagree wether Toussaint genuinely wanted to have a firm representative in France, or he just wanted to remove Lavaux, his only rival from power. Whatever the reason, Lavaux was convinced and left for France, leaving Toussaint L'ouverture as the one in charge, along with the French Commissioner Felicite Leger Sonthonax, until the French directorate could select a new governor. While Toussaint made the day to day decisions, he reports to the commissioner who then reports to the french directorate.
Sonthonax, was a fervent revolutionary and fierce supporter of racial equality, he soon rivaled Louverture in popularity. Although their goals were similar, there were several points of conflict. The worst of these was over the return of the white planters who had fled Saint-Domingue at the start of the revolution. To Sonthonax, they were potential counter-revolutionaries, to be assimilated, officially or not, with the ‘émigrés’ who had fled the French Revolution and were forbidden to return under pain of death. To Toussaint, they were bearers of useful skills and knowledge, and he wanted them back. The relationship between the two men plunged into its lowest in the Summer of 1797, when Toussaint authorized the return of his former master Francois Bayon de Libertat, whom he had helped fled to the spanish side of the island during the slave uprising of 1791. Sonthonax immediately sent an inflammatory letter to Toussaint, asking him to deport Libertat, and threatened him with prosecution if he did not obey.
Toussaint not only subsequently went over the head of the French commissioner, supposedly his boss, and wrote directly to the French directorate himself, asking permission for his former master to stay.
A month later, Toussaint ordered his men to arrest the French Commissioner and asked them to signed a letter that he had already written, for his deportation to France. His men were perplexed by his order, as they understood the enormity of arresting the french representative, and all of them hesitated to sign it, but Toussaint gave no explanation why he was ordering them to make the arrest and signed the letter alone. This was typical of Toussaint, who had been trained as a slave and then as a soldier. He never troubled to explain over much to subordinates; their business was to obey.
Sonthonax was arrested and sent to France, Toussaint had accused him of plotting for the colony's independence. In a long damning letter Toussaint described to the French directorate as example an impromptus and bizarre meeting he had with the commissioner.
'Toussaint was just about to retire from a public event he was participating in the northern city of Saint Marc when the french commissioner came into the room where he was staying.
" I am very, very pleased, I am enchanted at seeing you Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the colony. We are in a position now to do exactly what we want. You have an influence on all the inhabitants. It is imperative for us to execute our project. This is the most suitable moment, circumstances were never more favorable, and no one is better able to act than you and I." Toussaint allegedly replied: " That is to say Commissioner that you wish to destroy me, to kill all the whites and makes ourselves independent. Yet you had promised me that you would not speak to me again about these projects."
By encouraging the Governor General to leave for France and personally deported the french representative, Toussaint L'ouverture, this former slave negro had now reached the summit of unprecedented power, as now the governor general of the richest colony in the world. Toussaint rise to power was neither about greed nor money, but the sincerest love of the colony that he wanted to preserve for the French Republic, the republic with the ideals of liberty and equality he venerated so much. But since the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens, by 1797 France had been taken under siege by the most powerful French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had declared himself First Council and was now ruling France with an iron fist. One of his first act in office was to confirm Tousaint Louverture as the Governor General of Saint Domingue, he also explicitly forbade him to seek the annexation of the Spanish side of the island by driving Spain out. But the first act of Toussaint as Governor general was to invade the Spanish side of the Island, and within two years the last remaining Spanish territory was handed over to him. He accused Spain of plotting to invade his side so he had no choice but to drive them out, before they drove him out.
Toussaint reorganized the administration with boldness and skills. He divided the Island into six departments, and the boundaries that he fixed remain to this day. He created ordinary courts of appeal, one in French part of the Island and one in the Spanish part, and a Supreme Court of Appeal in the Capital, Cap-Francais.
Personal industry, social morality, public education, religious toleration, free trade, civic pride, racial equality, this ex slave strove according to his lights, alone, laid their foundation in all proclamations laws and decrees he insisted on moral principles, the necessity for work, respect for law and order, pride in Saint Domingue and veneration for France. All former colonist who had fled te island in the wake of the early days of the slaves uprising in 1791, were personally invited back by Toussaint with the promises of special treatments and favorable taxes. He believed for his population to truly be free they would need to work and earned a living and contribute to their society." The guarantee of the liberty of the blacks is the prosperity of Agriculture. "
He loved children an they loved him. Riding one day from Goanives to Ennery, a little orphan named Rose, 10 years of age, ran after him calling "papa, papa take me away with you." He dismounted his horse, took her up and carried her home to his wife. " Here's an orphan who has just called me father. I have accepted the tittle. Also accept the title of her mother."
"God if he came to earth could not visit a purer spirit than Toussaint Louverture." noted a priest.
Meanwhile in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte had been thinking about reviving the old days of slavery to revive the industries.
Napoleon Bonaparte told his council of state, " I am convinced that this island would become British if the slaves were not tied to us by their concern for their freedom. They may make less sugar, they will make it for us, and they will furnish us with soldiers as the need arises... So I will speak of liberty in the French part of Saint Domingue. I will confirm slavery in Ile-de-France, as well as the Spanish part of Saint Domingue; and I will reserve the prerogative of softening slavery where it will be maintained; and of reestablishing order and discipline were I shall maintain abolition."
Napoleon then dispatched one of his general Kesserveau along with the new Commissioner Vincent to meet Toussaint and deliver him a copy of a new constitution he had adopted. Article 91 of this new constitution concerns the french colonies, which will be governed by "special laws" The reason for this derives by the special nature of things and differences in climate.
"...French colonist situated in America, in Asia and Africa cannot be governed by the same laws. [as those of France] Differences in customs, manners, interests, the soil, agriculture, and types of production all requires various modifications. The consuls of the Republic in announcing this new social pact, declare to you that the sacred principles of liberty and equality of the blacks shall never be modified.... Remember brave negroes, that only the French people recognize your freedom and the equality of your rights."
Henceforth, the new laws would be subject as to its application or abrogation, to the uncertain intentions of the First council.
Toussaint was very troubled by the letter that he received; he understood what these "special laws" meant. He immediately suspected that Bonaparte was thinking of reestablishing slavery, but he refused to believe his own conclusion. He made for the arrangement of a huge festivity to welcome the officials from France, pressing them in private about the intentions of the Bonaparte but e couldn't get anything out of them. After meeting Toussaint for the first time General Kesserveau sent a letter to French Directory describing Toussaint.
"He is a man of great good sense, whose attachement to France cannot be doubted, whose religion guarantees morality, whose firmness equals prudence, who enjoys the confidence of all colors, and who has on his own an ascendency which nothing can counter balance. With him you can do all; without him you can do nothing."
Toussaint was completely master of his body as of his mind. He slept but two hours every night, and for days would be satisfied with two bananas and a glass of water. He looked very frail and weak. But he had eyes like steel and no one ever laughed in his presence. From the beginning of his career to the end he charged at the head of his men whenever a supreme effort was required.
Since Toussaint could not determine if Bonaparte was indeed going to restore slavery to the Island, he thought hat the only way to counter him was by publishing a constitution. One Toussaint informed some of his closest generals such as Dessalines and others, the refused to support him. They did not want to be any part of this. As usual, alone, Toussaint gathered his writers and secretary and began drafting a constitution for the colony.
The constitution explicitly gave the governor supreme and almost absolute legislative and executive authority. It was he who drafted and proposed the laws by which the colony and its inhabitants would be governed. Such laws would be submitted to a handpicked central assembly for approval or rejection. Trade, commerce, the organisation of agriculture, and labor relations, the enactment of penal measures, the importation of new laborers and above all the army where all under the authority of the Governor General. Toussaint's constitution and the status it claimed for Saint Domingue as a black, self governing, polity were not only a direct challenge to Bonaparte's authority and that of metropolitan France, they were close to being treasonable. But even more than that, coming from a former slave who had reached the height of power and dared, as a black and as an equal, to confront the First Council, the constitution struck a direct blow to the ontological foundation of white supremacy and, by its very existence, at the colonial foundation of the Atlantic order. By engaging in international trade, negotiating treaties with the United States and Great Britain, driving the representative of the metropolitan government out of the colony and promulgating and constitution, Toussant had already broken the bonds of colonialism and stepped into the world of nation states.
Napoleon Bonaparte's "special laws" was now superseded by Toussaint's constitution.
Slavery was forever abolished "There can be no slaves in Saint Domingue. All men are born, live, and die free and french." Toussaint's powers as governor and commander-in-chief of the colonial army were confined and extended for life and, as an exceptional measure, Louverture gave himself the power to designate his own successor. Toussaint had taken the colony to the brink of outright independence and separation from France- for he never declared independence- at the very least in direction of self-determination as a black self-governing territory of the french republic. All the evidence shows that Toussaint, working alone, driven by the desire to keep his people free had reached centuries ahead of his time, to form a political allegiance which we know today as "Dominion status."
On July 18, 1801, in the capital Cap Francais, at the town square Toussaint presented the constitution to the public.
"Oh my fellow citizens of all ages, of all states, and of all colors, you are free, and the constitution given to me today will eternalize your liberty! Let us bow down to the creator of the the universe to thank him for such a precious gift...This Constitution guarantees each individual the enjoyment of his rights. It demands from each citizen the practice of virtue, just as it summons to our land the rule of morality and the divine religion of Jesus Christ... For my part, I promise under the eyes of heaven, to do all in my power, if God allows me, to preserve the unity, peace, and public tranquility, and therefore the happiness of my fellow citizens. I promise to execute what is prescribed to me by the Colonial Constitution. Swear likewise, before the Supreme Being and before me, that you will submit to these laws which will bring you happiness, and consolidate your freedom."
"Learn citizens, to appreciate the glory of your new political status. In acquiring the rights that the constitution accords to all Frenchmen, do not forget the duties it imposes on you. Be but virtuous and you will be frenchmen and good citizens... work together for the prosperity of agriculture, which alone can support a state and assure public well being." Slavery dulls the intellect or degrades the character of the slaves. There was nothing of that dullness about Toussaint.
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