French Revolution of 1789 Was a Major Cause of the Haitian Revolution of 1791
The French Revolution of 1789 led to the development and insertion of new political forces such as democracy and nationalism which was inspired by the Enlightenment of the mid-eighteenth century. It questioned the authority of the King, priests, nobles and religion on a whole; namely Catholicism. The revolution gave new meaning to the political ideas of the people.
France’s involvement in the American Revolution had left the country in a massive financial crisis.Debt, inflation a lack of food and King Louis XVI lavish spending and heavy taxation on the Commons of society served to anger the people and so they demanded a new system of government. The Old Regime and Social Stratification in France Under the system of the Old Regime the King was seen in society as being the absolute monarch whose rule was ordained my God. The King had centralized power in the Royal Bureaucracy. In unison the King and the bureaucracy preserved royal authority and maintained a system of social stratification stipulated by the Old Regime.The society in France was legally stratified by birth, divided into three Estates. The First Estate consisting of the clergy, the Second Estate; the nobility and the Third Estate the Commons which consisted of the bourgeoisie, city workers and peasants. The First Estate, the clergy which was also made up of members from the nobility enjoyed various privileges which were unavailable to those below their station in society. They paid no taxes and to support activities of the church collected tithes or taxes on income. The Second Estate, the nobility hardly paid taxes despite their great wealth.Their source of income came from rents and dues collected from the use of their farms and estates. The Third Estate resented the privileges enjoyed by the clergy and nobility. They were forced to pay taxes, tithes to the church and rent and dues to landlords for the land they occupied. This served to cause an upset in the society as it prevented the commons from entering into upward social mobility which was primarily based on the order in which one was born. Due to these occurrences the Commons wanted to have some form of equality in the French society. Thus they were in constant negotiation with the Crown for better and more privileges.The Estates-General (1789) As a result of King Louis XVI was forced to call a meeting on Estates-General on May 5, 1789 at Versailles. This was the place where representatives from each social Estate could be represented and their grievances voiced. Social tension plaguing the Old Regime was the central grievance of those representing the Third Estate. Because the First and Second Estates were primarily made up of citizens of the nobility they were allowed to override the Third Estates as they contained two out of the three votes available. As a result the Third Estate was left voiceless.The Third Estate offered a vision that privilege in society was to be determined by usefulness rather than birth. Writers of the Enlightenment; Voltaire, Montesquies and Rousseau served to be an encouraging factor to those seeking equality in society as they viewed these privileges enjoyed by the nobility as being rooted in tradition. As a result the Third Estate invited the other estates to join a new legislature. They eventually renamed themselves the National Assembly which was based on the people rather than Estates. By doing this they revealed their intention of becoming the official legislative body of France.In the summer of 1789the National Constituent Assembly declared itself the full authority of the nation. This led to the abolition of feudalism and the system of privileges under the Old Regime. Figure 1. The Estates-General inFrance The Role of the Enlightenment The Enlightenment of the mid-eighteenth century was a philosophical movement that proposed that talent replaced birth as the main determinant of ones social standing. They believed that methods applied to studying the natural science could be used to correct the problems of society. Advocates of this movement concerned themselves with ‘reason’ and ‘liberty’.The Enlightenment caused people to consider the view that knowledge could only be acquired through careful study and ones reasoning abilities. In order for this to be achieved religious ideology and traditional beliefs had to be forsaken. Thus they encouraged the concept of liberty which they defined as being freedom from religion, press and unreasonable government. These ideas not only inspired the Commons in France but also the politicians and Heads of State. This was what eventually inspired French revolutionaries to construct a declaration that would serve to mold a society based on reason rather than tradition.The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) This Declaration insisted on the freedom and equality of man and gave birth to the revolutionary triad; ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ . Put in place by the National Constituent Assembly; was encouraged by the philosophical and political ideas of the Enlightenment. The declaration puts in place the ideology of Natural rather than religious doctrine and authority. The rights of man were to be secured and recognized by a government of elected representatives. This therefore meant an ending to privilege and feudalism; and equality in France.Clergy, nobles, judges and even ordinary tax payers lost whatever special standing they once had. Each person was now seen as being ‘identical’ before the law. Figure 2. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Ciizen Saint Domingue prior to French Revolution The society in St. Domingue was a replica of the society in France plagued by the Old Regime of social stratification in France. This was introduced to the colony as the Royalist/Metropolitan Whites brought with them to the colony the traditions held by the Old Regime. Conflict between each social group was based on race and the acquisition of capital.Tensions between the Whites, Mulattoes and Blacks and more specifically within the white society; tension between the Royalists, Grand and Petite Blancs was plaguing the society in St. Domingue. This segregation within the colony can later be credited as one of the contributing factors of the revolution in 1791, as the French Revolution of 1789 left each group seeking equal rights and privileges within society Social Stratification in St. Domingue The Metropolitan Whites/ Royalists: These were whites who came directly from France to St.Domingue as members of the bureaucracy whose purpose was to see to the Governance of the colony. They enjoyed the commercial privileges of the French bourgeoisie and brought with them to the colony the traditions held by the Old Regime in France of absolutism of the monarchy and the ideology of feudalism. At the head of the bureaucracy was the Governor and Intendant. The King’s representative in the colony was the Governor who was a soldier and aristocrat. His duty in the colony was that of granting concession, being an agent for European merchandise in the colony and colonial merchandise in Europe.The Intendant in the colony had judicial responsibilities as well as seeing to the finance and general administration of the colony. The Metropolitans had extensive privileges and power in the colony that could not be enjoyed by whites below their station. The Grand Blancs: These were wealthy plantation owners, top civil and military officers of St. Domingue. Some of whom had aristocratic origins in France while others were known Creoles. Their ambition in the colony was to regain enough wealth to return to France despite the fact that they were the most prominent of social groups within the society.The Petite Blancs: These were the poor whites of St. Domingue; primarily shop keepers, book keepers and merchants. They were seen by other superior whites as being unproductive within the society, performing no important role within the economy of the colony. It was often thought that the Mulattoes and Blacks could carry out the tasks performed by Petite Blancs if they were to be deported. They were also excluded from privileges enjoyed by the Grand Blancs, however, because they were white it was easier for them to fit into the society. The Mulattoes/Affranchis: These were the children of white planters and slaves.They were exceptionally numerous within the society with the fate of their freedom resting in the hands of their white fathers. By the mid-eighteenth century their economic advances had began to overshadow members of the white society. A number of them participated in the purchase of land and slaves, they ran their own plantations and some were allowed the privilege of being educated in France. It is argued by historians David Barry Gasper and David Patrick Geggus, that the affranchise owned one third of the colony’s plantations, one quarter of the slaves and one quarter of the real estate property.Slaves: The treatment of black slaves in St. Domingue was the worst endured by slaves of the West Indies. Planters had been making immense profits in the colony to the detriment of the slaves. They were worked excessively hard, harshly punished and poorly fed. Because of this every five years the slave population of St. Domingue had to be replenished as the colony held the highest death rate of blacks within the region. Racial Tension and Discrimination in St. Domingue Prior to 1791 The Metropolitan Whites/Royalists looked upon the Grand Blancs with arrogance and disdain despite their wealth and status in society.They too however, were also resented by the Grand Blancs as they thought the Royalists to be wasteful and extravagant. They also hated the fact that they could not hold civil service positions held by the Metropolitans which meant that they had no power over the running of the colony. Similarly the most notable tension between whites can be found between the Grand and Petite Blancs. Although they were of the same colour, the Grand Blancs resented the Petite Blancs as they thought them unproductive to the economy of the colony. Due to their status in society the Petite Blancs were not able to partake in privileges enjoyed by the Grand Blancs.Voting, for example within the colony was based on the amount of property one possessed, thus the Petite Blance were exclude from the administration due to lack of land. The economic advances of the Affranchise within St. Domingue was viewed by whites as being a dangerous trend that could eventually undermine the superiority of the white plantocracy. Thus it became increasingly important to both Colonial Whites and Royalists to enforce white superiority in St. Domingue by legislating against Mulatto equality with whites by repressing their political ambitions and placing them in degrading positions n society despite their wealth and education. This was done to ensure that the Affranchise remembered their slave origins which made it impossible for them to be equal to whites. The Mulattoes were hated by the Blacks as they showed resentment for their genealogical ties to blacks and slavery. They tried very hard to imitate the lives of the whites and saw to drown out all traces of their origin. Thus the slaves hated them as well as the whites. Due to this the slaves were feared by both the Whites and the Mulattoes as they were vastly outnumbered. Impact of the French Revolution on St.Domingue The events of the revolution in St. Domingue can be credited to the influence of the French Revolution in 1789 as it was the factor which inspired the events in St. Domingue. All social classes in the colony were greatly affected by the French Revolution as the Grand and Petite Blancs, the Affranchise and the Slaves saw the events taking place in France as an opportunity to seize liberty and equality. The Grand Blancs saw the opportunity to secure independence in the colony from the restrictions of the Mother country retarding their economic growth.Thus liberty to the plantocracy meant the removal of Metropolitan controls over the affairs of the colony. For the Petite Blancs, the impact of the ideologies of the French Revolution meant social equality with the Grand Blancs and liberty meant ‘active citizenship’ allowing them to vote freely without the acquisition of land standing in their way. For the Mulattoes in St. Domingue they thought that the revolution in France gave them the opportunity to demand civil and political rights which were denied to them because of their black origin.For the slaves equality and liberty reinforced their aspirations for personal freedom. The Revolt of the Grand Blancs The white planters in St. Domingue had began demanding political representation. The calling of the Estates-General in France in 1789 left them determined to get their interests and grievances voiced in France. Because of this the Grand Blancs supported the revolution taking place in France as for them it meant liberty from the shackles of the Mother country. For them the revolution meant freedom of trade and political control of St.Domingue at the expense of the Petite Blancs, Mulattoes and slaves. However without authority from the National Assembly, the Grand Blancs called elections in St. Domingue for a General Assembly in 1790. As a result the Petite Blancs were excluded from participating in the Assembly due to the lack of land they obtained; the Mulattoes were also excluded from partaking in the Assembly due to their lack of civil and political rights within the colony. Due to their newly found power the Grand Blancs had begun disregarding the authority of the Metropolitan whites and the National Assembly in France.Because of this the Royalist and Petite Blancs and to some extent the Mulattoes untied to crush the revolt of the planters as they preferred the Colonial ties with France and obedience to the National Assembly. Due to the defeat of their cause the Grand Blancs then turned their fury upon the Affranchise of the colony because of their role aiding the suppression of their revolt. The Revolt of the Affranchise Because of the occurrences of violence by the Grand Blancs against Mulattoes; questions concerning their civil rights and social equality were brought to the attention of the National Assembly.As such there was an attempt made to pacify the Mulattoes in the colony by allowing them equality with the Whites in the Militia. Thus in 1790 a decree was passed by the National Assembly granting voting rights and the right to hold office to all Mulatto ‘persons’ owning property over the age of twenty five who met the income requirements stipulated. However, the decision to ensure the rights of these ‘persons’ was left within the hands of the Grand Blancs who hated Mulattoes and refused to give them the right to vote.Because of this the Mulattoes were forced to appeal to the Governor complaining that their rights were not being secured. The leader of the Mulattoes, Vincent Oge? threatened to use force if their demands were not met. Thus they encountered violent opposition from the colonial whites which eventually caused the movement to escalate into an armed revolt. Unfortunately the revolt was violently suppressed and leaders executed; however, as a result of the revolt a proposal was put forward by the Colonial Assembly that granted political rights to those born of legally free parents. The Revolt of the Slaves in 1791Figure 3. The revolt of the slaves The question of slavery in France was one of a complicated nature due to the fact that French commerce greatly depended on the production of their colonies which was facilitated by slavery. Thus revolution and resistance in St. Domingue became possible when slavery was challenged in France by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The colony was under the instruction of French laws yet these rights did not relate to the blacks. To the National Assembly the exploitation of slaves was a profitable business as such they had no intention of granting them freedom.The news of the French Revolution and its triad, ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ was dispersed throughout the colony and slave population via ships and their sailors as well as French revolutionaries who believed in the equality of all. The sailors spoke in excitement to blacks unloading and loading cargo into the ships of the events taking place in France. Upon hearing this, the slaves then realized that they had witnessed similar events that had occurred in the colony to what was happening in France in the name of liberty and equality.The Grand Blancs revolt against the Bureaucracy and in 1790 the revolt of the Mulattoes to the Grand Blancs. Thus upon hearing of the success of the French bourgeoisie the slaves took it as an example which would enable them to gain freedom from their masters. The first sign of unrest within the slaves occurred when they believed that their masters were withholding three free days that the King himself had given them. The first attempt of slaves to gain their free days originated in Port-Salut in the South province.Because the masters refused to comply, the slaves were forced to engage in a conspiracy which was aimed at ensuring their masters granting the rights the King had given them. The conspiracy was however discovered and ringleaders arrested. These occurrences signaled the beginning of the revolutionary struggle of the slaves in the South Province. The slaves of the North were also greatly affected by the occurrences in the South and thus prepared a massive revolt. Simultaneously slave gatherings in the West also appeared similar to the ones in Port-Salut.After a religious ceremony headed by voodoo priest Boukman the revolt aimed at liberty for the slaves began in the North Plain District of Acul in 1791.B I B L I O G R A P H Y Books Bayan, Patrick. ‘The Haitian Revolution and its Effects. ’ Heingmann. 1998 Brians, Paul. ‘Reading about the World: Volume 2’. American Heritage Custom Publishing. 1998 Censer, Jack and Hunt, Lynn. ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution’. American Social History Production Inc. 2001 Gasper, David B. and Geggus, David P. A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean’. Indiana University Press. 1997 Greenwood, Robert and Hamber, Shirley. ‘Emancipation to Emigration’ Macmillan Publishers Limited. 2003 James, C. L. R. ‘The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution’. Random House Inc. 1963 Websites Bromley, Jason. ‘Resistance and the Haitian Revolution’. scholar. library. miami. edu. 2008 Chavis, Jason. ‘The Estate-General of 1789: Foundation of the French Revolution’ french-history. suite. 101. com 2009