The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of America

DURING THE NIGHT of August 22, 1791, a wave of fire engulfed the French West Indies colony of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti), as hundreds of thousands of slaves set fire to plantations, torched cities, and massacred a terrified white population. The slave rebellion that started that night–the most successful slave rebellion in history–lasted 12 long years. It culminated in the founding of the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and its first black-governed republic. But more than this, the Haitian Revolution was a turning point in history, the repercussions of which extended far beyond the small island nation. Perhaps nowhere was its impact greater than in the United States, where Haiti’s slave revolt figured directly in two of the most significant events in United States history: the Louisiana Purchase and the American Civil War.

In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, St. Domingue was the world’s most prosperous colony. It was “an integral part of the economic life of the age, the greatest colony in the world, the pride of France, and the envy of every other imperialist nation.”[1] Its plantation economy produced an abundance of crops, of which sugar was by far the most important. At its peak, St. Domingue produced more sugar than all the British Caribbean islands put together and was responsible for forty percent of the overseas trade of France.[2]

The entire economic structure of St. Domingue rested on the backs of a population denied any participation in the colony’s prosperity[3]–the more than one-half million black slaves who were raided from their homelands in Africa and brought in slave ships to the New World to fill an ever-expanding demand for labor and profits. Black slavery in St. Domingue, as in the rest of the Western Hemisphere, was brutal and dehumanizing. The Code Noir enacted by the French government in 1685, ostensibly to ensure humane treatment for slaves, was ignored from the start by the plantation owners in St. Domingue.[4] The Catholic Church, although a political force in the colony, was itself a slaveholding institution and, accordingly, both unwilling and unable to exercise its moral authority on the issue of slavery.[5] Therefore, the upper class, or grands blancs, who owned slaves were left to treat them in any way they chose.

Two factors–fear and greed–virtually dictated the mistreatment of the slaves. In St. Domingue, where slaves outnumbered slaveholders by fifteen to one,[6] slaveholders sought through unspeakably cruel and punishing conditions to keep the slaves subservient and to deter thoughts of rebellion. Purely economic considerations also worked against the slaves. For planters, it was cheaper to work slaves to death and acquire replacements than to care for them into old age. Consequently, slave mortality on St. Domingue was unusually high.[7] As sugar prices rose in the years leading up to the French Revolution, St. Domingue’s slaves were driven harder than ever.[8]

Given the brutality to which St. Domingue’s slaves were subjected, it is not surprising that resentment of the white population smoldered within the slave population. In 1789, the French Revolution unleashed demands for sweeping social and governmental change which quickly spread from the mother country to the colonies. Planters and merchants demanded greater freedom from colonial ministers; free-coloreds and mulattoes demanded social equality. A virtual civil war erupted, with all factions raising troops and fighting for control of the colonial government.[9] For two years, St. Domingue’s slaves sat on the sidelines of this fighting. But by 1791 a number of factors had converged to ignite the flames of open revolt within this population. During the period from 1788 to 1791 the slave population burgeoned–growing by more than 100,000–as a result of soaring demand for sugar and the other exports of St. Domingue. These newly imported Africans, “insufficiently acculturated” to ensure docility, would provide the “mass base of the insurrection.”[10] Additionally, “mushrooming prices of colonial products in revolutionary France” translated into increased slave exploitation, further fanning slave unrest.[11] Finally, the white planters, preoccupied with their own grievances, loosened their grip on the slaves, allowing repressed hatred finally to explode, fueled by the cries of liberty and equality that reverberated throughout the French Revolution.[12]

The course of the slave rebellion begun in fire on the night of August 22, 1791, was long and tortuous. In the process of achieving independence, the slaves fought and defeated, in turn, the local white planters and troops of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expeditionary force, and, in the end, the supposedly invincible army of Napoleon Bonaparte. Instrumental in the Revolution’s success was one man–Toussaint Louverture, a former Creole slave, regarded by some as a savior and by others as a calculating dictator.[13] In 1793, he took charge of the poorly-organized slaves and molded them into an efficient, disciplined fighting unit known for its guerrilla attacks. It was Toussaint’s leadership that steered the revolution through years of savage fighting in a three way racial war between whites, blacks, and mulattos. In 1796, he became St. Domingue’s governor general. Through a shrewd mixture of statecraft and diplomacy, he began to rebuild his battered, war-ravaged country, eventually negotiating trade alliances with the British and the United States.

Feared by monarchies and slaveowners, Toussaint became known as the Black Napoleon. Meanwhile, the real Napoleon had set his sights on retaking St. Domingue as part of his re-establishment of a French empire in the Western Hemisphere. To defend St. Domingue and the other Sugar Islands of the West Indies, Napoleon intended to create a North American military base located in the vast Louisiana territory, newly re-acquired from Spain. The agricultural output of the Louisiana territory would feed the sugar colonies–which, while prosperous, had never been self-sufficient–and its wealth in furs and raw materials would be used to finance Napoleon’s military ventures. Before he could take control of Louisiana, however, Napoleon needed to regain control of St. Domingue, which was to serve as a rest stop and supply center for ships headed for the North American continent. Toussaint was an obstacle to Napoleon’s ambitions; in particular, to his plan to restore slavery to the French Caribbean.[14] Therefore, Napoleon dispatched a massive amphibious force to destroy him and reclaim St. Domingue. In retrospect, Napoleon would call this decision the greatest folly of his life.[15]

Although the French troops, commanded by Napoleon’s brother-in-law General Charles Leclerc, arrived under the guise of protecting St. Domingue, Toussaint was not fooled. When the French army landed on St. Domingue, it found a barren wasteland of charred plantations, slaughtered livestock, and mutilated white corpses. Dessalines, one of Toussaint’s commanding officers, emphasized the tactic of destruction employed by the rebels: “The whites from France cannot hold out against us in St. Domingue. They will fight well at first, but soon they will fall sick and die like flies…. We will harass them and beat them, we will burn the harvests and then take to the hills.”[16] Dessalines was right. Over the next twenty-two months, Napoleon’s army was devastated by guerrilla warfare, insurrections and yellow fever.[17] In June 1802, the French, exasperated and exhausted, resorted to deception to defeat Toussaint, luring him to a meeting ostensibly to discuss peace. Once there, Toussaint was captured and transported to France, where he died a prisoner ten months later.

Toussaint’s capture, however, did not end St. Domingue’s fight for freedom; instead, it incited his followers to fight even harder. In October 1802, Leclerc sent a desperate message to Napoleon requesting more men and advising: “If you cannot send the troops I demand…[the colony] will be forever lost to France.”[18] Napoleon responded to this plea by sending 20,000 additional troops under a new commander in January 1803, but these reinforcements arrived too late to turn the tide. By November, having lost more than 40,000 troops in battle or from disease, France surrendered and was forced to leave the island.[19] Napoleon’s legendary army had been defeated by former slaves with no formal military training.

The historical impact of the Haitian Revolution would extend far beyond the small Caribbean island. Without control of the crown jewel of its planned empire, France saw the Louisiana territory as a useless drain on its resources. Needing money for his renewed war with England, Napoleon sold the vast Louisiana territory to the United States on April 30, 1803, for about four cents an acre.[20] With this abrupt act, France removed itself as a power in the Western Hemisphere.

For the United States, the Louisiana Purchase was a turning point the historical importance of which has been ranked “next to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution.”[21] This single acquisition doubled the nation’s size, making it formidable enough to withstand almost any outside threat. It gave the country its heartland, as well as control of the Mississippi River and the important port city of New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico.

By acquiring New Orleans, the United States removed the trade barrier which the French had imposed against Americans wishing to ship goods through New Orleans. So important was this port to the commerce of the young United States that, in April 1803, President Thomas Jefferson wrote:

There is on the globe one spot the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market. The day that France takes possession of New Orleans…we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.[22]
The opening of New Orleans also resolved a deeply divisive political problem. The French closing of the Mississippi River to American traffic violated the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Westerners, dependent on the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans to get their products to eastern markets, wondered why they should pay taxes to a country that would not stand up for them, and they threatened to become French citizens or secede from the United States unless the government invaded Louisiana. The Louisiana Purchase ended this threat.[23]

In a broader sense, the Purchase fundamentally transformed the way Americans thought about themselves. The vast open spaces of the Louisiana territory drew immigrants from all over Europe, changing the character of the nation by increasing its social diversity.[24] The push to settle this new territory shifted the eyes of the country westward,[25] making further expansion almost inevitable and giving birth, if not to the term, at least to the forces behind “manifest destiny”–the idea that the United States had both a right and a duty to own and settle the entire continent. Before the Louisiana annexation, Americans “in many ways still had a colonial attitude; they still looked to England and to France.”[26] With the acquisition the Louisiana territory, their focus shifted to their own continent. “[F]or the first time, Americans became Americans as we know them, people with a continental view.[27]

The Haitian Revolution initiated all of this change. But its impact did not stop there. The revolt of the Haitian slaves also influenced forces that helped foment what many have called the defining moment in American history: the Civil War. The push to create new states out of the vast Louisiana territory led to dissension between North and South over whether the new states would be admitted as slave or free. New England Federalists threatened to secede rather than permit the delicate balance that had been worked out between the mercantile states of the North and the slave-holding states of the agrarian South to be upset.[28] For the South, the stakes in this debate were raised by a boom in the demand for cotton that coincided with the acquisition of the Louisiana territory.[29] The plantation economy, dependent on slave labor, quickly spread to the southern regions of the Louisiana territory. For these new planters, the debate over slavery was an economic as well as a philosophical issue. The tensions over the treatment of the slavery question in the states carved out of the Louisiana territory would ultimately trigger guerrilla warfare in Bleeding Kansas, which in turn was a factor leading to the Civil War.[30]

The impact of the Haitian Revolution on the United States was not confined, however, to the slave-versus-free-state debate. In the ante-bellum South, “No issue having to do with slavery and the role of blacks in American society was discussed at so many different times, in so many different ways, for so many different reasons as the lessons of the Haitian Revolution.”[31] Reports of the fury vented by the Haitian slaves on their white oppressors reached the United States, transmitted by refugees fleeing St. Domingue. One eyewitness reported seeing “young children transfixed upon the points of bayonets”[32] Others described slaves dragging white planters from their homes and tearing off their limbs one by one or strapping them to wooden racks and sawing them in half.[33] “Whites had always been aware of slaves as ‘troublesome property,’ but only after St. Domingue did they react to the threat as a real one and not just a potential one.”[34] Alarmed, they worried that once slaves “get a taste for freedom…they will not easily be made to abandon the enterprise.”[35]

Southern fears were not entirely unfounded. Slave uprisings in the United States greatly increased after 1791, and evidence of a direct connection between this growing slave unrest and the Haitian revolt exists. In the case of one major slave revolt, the Denmark Vesey plot in 1802 to burn Charleston, South Carolina, for example, evidence established that Vesey had communicated with Haitian blacks and even expected a Haitian invasion to support his rebellion in South Carolina.[36] Reacting to the Haitian Revolution, southern slaveholders increased the repression of their own slaves to prevent a similar revolt.[37] Repressive measures were also directed at the large number of freed blacks, feared by whites as a potential source of insurrection. Laws were passed “to make it harder for masters to free their slaves, regulation after regulation attempted to control the movements of Blacks and to prohibit the assembly of, or indeed any contact between, free Blacks and slaves.”[38]

This repression impassioned the northern Abolitionist movement and further polarized the North and South in the years preceding the Civil War. The increased brutality directed toward the slaves by fearful slaveholders became a central focus of the Abolitionists’ crusade to end slavery. They seized upon the example of Toussaint as proof that blacks were not inferior to whites but were instead quite capable of freedom.[39] Moreover, measures undertaken in the South to discourage slave uprisings, including the employment of the Army for slave control activities and attacks on the right of assembly and petition, produced a counter-reaction in the North, helping to broaden the anti-slavery struggle “into a battle for the security of the democratic rights of white people.”[40] This development has been called “probably the most important force strengthening the entire Abolitionist movement.”[41] In 1861, the tensions between North and South–exacerbated by events that happened directly or indirectly because of Haiti–finally exploded into the Civil War.

For the former slaves of St. Domingue, the freedom for which they fought would prove ephemeral, largely erased by a succession of dictators. But the impact of the Haitian Revolution would be indelible in the United States, where a slave revolt on foreign soil must, today, be recognized as a major turning point in American history.



  • In 1794 and 1800, the federal government passed anti-slave trade laws to prevent the possible spread of the Haitian slave revolt to the U.S. The first prohibited citizens from equipping ships engaged in slave trade commerce, and the second prohibited Americans from serving aboard such ships or from having any interest in their voyages. (Aptheker, 45).
  • Beginning in 1792, southern states, including South Carolina, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland, passed laws restricting slave trade as a means of preventing the possible infection of the U.S. by the Haitian rebellion. South Carolina’s statute prohibited the importation by any one person of more than two slaves, and required that the slaves imported be for personal use only. This law was subsequently modified to retain a total ban only with respect to slaves from the West Indies or South America. However, all imported slaves had to be accompanied by a statement signed by two magistrates attesting that the slaves had not been involved in any insurrection or revolt. (Ibid., 73-74).
  • In 1797, Baltimore, Maryland passed an ordinance declaring all slaves imported from the West Indies between 1792 and 1797 to be “dangerous to the peace and welfare of the city” and ordering their masters to banish them. (Ibid., 74).
  • Many southern states enacted measures restricting the civil liberties of blacks, including laws forbidding meetings of slaves without the presence of whites, prohibiting the assembly of blacks on city streets after dark, requiring slaves to have passes when off plantation, forbidding slaves to possess weapons, and providing severe penalties for sedition. (Ibid., 73-74).
  • A South Carolina regulation made it necessary for a magistrate and five freeholders to approve a document of manumission, freeing slaves from bondage. One of the stated reasons for this regulation was a concern that slaveholders would release slaves “of bad or depraved character” who might incite rebellion once freed. (Ibid. 75)
  • Freed blacks were restricted in their right to hold certain jobs or learn certain trades that might make it easier for them to organize a rebellion. They were also restricted in their freedom of movement from state to state or county to county. (Ibid., 77-78).
  • In some states, blacks were prevented from testifying in court against white persons; this restriction had the effect of preventing blacks from defending themselves against charges that they were part of a slave conspiracy. (Aptheker,77).
  • Shortly after the Vesey Plot to burn Charleston was aborted, white Carolinians took measures to ensure that free blacks were given even less freedom. As part of this effort, in December 1832, the South Carolina legislature enacted the Free-Colored Seamen’s Act, requiring that all free blacks employed on incoming vessels be detained in jail while their ship was in port. (Hunt, 120).

Annotated Bibliography



A Particular Account of the Commencement and Progress of the Insurrection of the Negroes in St. Domingo. London: J. Sewell, 1792.
This is a translation of a speech made to the French National Assembly by the Deputies from the General Assembly of St. Domingue explaining the origins of the slave revolt. The viewpoint presented is that of the white planters. The speech describes in graphic detail the horrors of the slave insurrection and the gruesome murder of the white population at the hands of the slaves. The Deputies suggest that there would not have been an insurrection except for the activities of the Amis de Noirs (literally “Friends of the Blacks”) which fomented discontent among the black population. This speech is interesting because it is a first person account and helpful in explaining the position of the white planters.

An Inquiry into the Causes of the Insurrection of the Negroes in the Island of St. Domingo. Philadelphia: Crukshank, 1792.
Like the preceding entry, this too is a translation of remarks made to the French National Assembly looking into the causes of the slave revolt in St. Domingue. Unlike the previous entry, however, these remarks reject the arguments of the white planters as to the origins of the revolution and instead lay the blame at their feet. This report suggests that the unwillingness of the white planters to extend equal rights to the mulattos was the source of the discontent which eventually spread to the slave population.

Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. [1943] 5th ed. New York: International Publishers, 1987.
This book could be considered both a primary and a secondary source. It is a complete and very well documented account of the history of resistance to slavery in the United States. The author’s analysis is insightful and was very helpful to me in preparing my paper. However, what was even more helpful was the primary source material which helped document just how big an impact the Haitian Revolution had on the United States in the pre-Civil War period. This book is one of the best sources I found.

Howard, Thomas Phipps. The Haitian Journal of Lieutenant Howard, York Hussiers, 1796-1798. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.
This is a first-hand account of the Haitian Revolution written by a lieutenant in a regiment of the British expeditionary force sent to St. Domingue. As was true of the French forces, the British forces were repelled and soundly defeated by the Haitian army led by Toussaint L’Ouverture. This journal vividly describes Lieutenant Howard’s experiences during the final two years of Britain’s occupation of St. Domingue. The editor of this book notes that it is probably “the only reliable firsthand military account in English” of the slave uprising. The journal is interesting because of what it tells us about the slave rebellion and the military history of a doomed expedition. In the process, it provides insight into the military leadership of Toussaint from someone who fought against him.

Lassat, Pierre-Clement de. Louisiana, Napoleon, and the United States. Lamham: University Press of America, 1989.
This book, written by the man who was designated by Napoleon to become the governor of French Louisiana, is an excellent primary source of information pertaining to the events leading up to the sale of Louisiana to the United States. The book contains particularly interesting insights into Napoleon’s thought process in deciding precipitously to sell Louisiana.

Marbois, M. Barbe. The History of Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.
This primary source, written by the then-French Minister of the Treasury, provides not only a masterly written and very informative account of the history of Louisiana but also first person insight into the thoughts of Napoleon at the time he decided to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States. The author was the French representative to the negotiations which led to the sale of Louisiana.

Mullin, Michael, et. American Negro Slavery: A Documentary History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1976.
This book traces the history of black slaves in America through original primary source materials, including diaries, public records, newspaper accounts, and personal correspondence. These documents help you understand what it was like to be a slave in America, as well as how the slaves were perceived by white society. For purposes of my paper, the book was useful because it contained a series of accounts pertaining to Denmark Vesey, the leader of one of the largest planned slave insurrections in U.S. history, and a man who clearly drew inspiration from the Haitian slave revolt. Vesey was born in Africa and was brought to the Caribbean, and specifically to St. Domingue, by his master. He had an opportunity to observe first hand the Haitian revolt. Vesey eventually purchased his freedom with a lottery ticket, after which he moved to the United States and settled in Charleston, South Carolina, a city which had a long history of contact with the West Indies. There he carefully planned a slave revolt involving thousands of slaves. His plans were to take the entire city and, eventually, to escape to Haiti. His plot was foiled, however, and Vesey and thirty-five others were tried and hanged. One of the excerpts in this book reports on the Vesey trial, in which Vesey took the stand and defended himself.

Ott, Thomas O. The Haitian Revolution. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1973.
This book could be listed as both a primary and a secondary source. Although it is written by a contemporary author, it contains much primary source material. The book is a history of the Haitian Revolution told in large part through first hand accounts. It has a particularly good discussion of the consequences of the Revolution for the United States. This source provided me with first hand explanations of the events that were taking place in Haiti at the time of the rebellion. This book does a particularly nice job of telling, through first hand accounts, of the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the South.

Parham, Althia de Puech, ed. My Odyssey: Experiences of a Young Refugee from Two Revolutions by a Creole of Saint Domingue. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
This is the first person account of the French and Haitian Revolutions told by a young French Creole author (16 years old at the time of the events described in the book) whose family fled the terrors of the French Revolution in 1791 and moved back to Haiti seeking asylum. Unfortunately, they returned to St. Domingue just in time to be caught up in the slave revolt. The family stayed in St. Domingue about two years, during which time the young author fought on the side of the French planters in many uprisings. After the horrible massacre and burning of Cap Francais, a major city in St. Domingue, the family once again fled, this time to the United States.
Although I wasn’t able to use this book very much in my paper, due to page constraints, it is a fascinating account of the Haitian Revolution from the perspective of an actual participant. According to the editor, who is a distant relative of the author, this is the only first person account available which is told from the side of the French planters. This book provides a fascinating account of the situation in St. Domingue immediately prior to the slave revolt, the events that actually took place during the author’s two visits to the embattled island (the second coming in 1794 when the author returned to St. Domingue from the United States to fight on the side of the French against the rebels.

Rus, Martin. Night of Fire: The Black Napoleon and the Battle for Haiti. New York: Sarpedon Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Although this book could be considered a secondary source, I have treated as a primary source because of its many primary source quotes. The book traces the history of the Haitian Revolution from the pre-Revolution brutality leveled by white plantation owners at the slaves to the uprising itself.

Ryan, Mary C., ed. The Louisiana Purchase. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1987.
This book contains copies of documents pertaining to the purchase by the United States of the Louisiana territory, including the actual purchase agreement. It also contains a good discussion of the consequences for the United States of the purchase of the Louisiana territory.

Stephen, James. The Crisis of the Sugar Colonies; or An Enquiry Into The Objects and Probable Effects of the French Expedition to West Indies. London: J. Hatchard, 1802.
This document consists of a series of four letters written by a James Stephen to the British Prime Minister offering advice concerning the situation in St. Domingue following the slave uprising and on the eve of Napoleon’s ill-fated attack. It is unclear who Mr. Stephen is and whether his letters are an official report solicited by the Prime Minister or simply voluntary comments. The letters are interesting for a number of reasons. In the first letter discussing conditions in the West Indies that led to the slave insurrection, Mr. Stephen provides an excellent description of the harsh conditions under which the St. Domingue slaves were forced to work. The other part of these letters which I found to be of particular interest were the British predictions as to what Napoleon was intending when he sent troops toward St. Domingue. The author of these letters guessed correctly that Napoleon wanted more than simply to persuade Toussaint and his band of rebels to swear allegiance to the French. Instead, the author predicts that Napoleon is bent on restoring slavery. The author suggests that, at the outset, Napoleon should have little trouble subduing the rebels. However, once the former-slaves become aware of French intent to reinstate slavery, this author predicts that the mass of blacks will rise up again, placing in jeopardy the French invasion.

Toussad, Louis de. Justification of Lewis Tousad Addressed to the National Convention of France. Philadelphia: Daniel Humphrirs, 1793.
This is a rather pathetic plea from a man who led French forces during the slave rebellion written from prison, professing his innocence to charges that he conspired with the black insurgents against the citizens of St. Domingue. Although the events which gave rise to Mr. Tousad’s imprisonment are not entirely clear, this report was interesting because it reveals just how many factions were in conflict during the Haitian Revolution.

Tyson, George F., ed. Toussaint Louverture. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1973.
This book is an excellent source of commentary on Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian Revolution, and its aftermath, told largely through the first person accounts of people who lived during this period in history. It gave me a good perspective on the fact that Toussaint was a highly controversial figure, feared by some people and very much loved by others.


Barry, James P. The Louisiana Purchase. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1973.
This book is a good general source of information on the history of the Louisiana Purchase. I used it as an overview and also as a springboard to further research.

Beard, John R. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, The Negro Patriot of Hayti. London: Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853.
This book is essentially a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture. It is one of many biographies written in the mid-1800s that portrays Toussaint in glowing terms to have been a patriot and hero.

Blumberg, Rhoda. What’s the Deal? Jefferson, Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1998.
This rather short book provides an informative overview of the events leading up to the Louisiana Purchase from the perspective of both the Americans and the French. Of particular interest were the quotations from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams concerning Toussaint Louverture. From the beginning, Americans both admired Toussaint and feared the impact the Haitian slave revolt might have on this country.

Bryan, Patrick E. The Haitian Revolution and After. University of Minnesota Thesis, 1983.
This college thesis provides a good overview of life in Haiti before the Haitian Revolution, including a good discussion of the complicated social structure existing in the colony prior to the Revolution.

Clarke, John Henrik. African People in World History. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1993.
This is a fascinating little book that focuses on the history of Africans in the Americas and in the Caribbean Islands in the contest of the entire African past. The book covers a lot of territory in very few pages. For purposes of my paper, the most relevant section of the book was its discussion of the Atlantic slave trade. With respect to the plantation system in both the Caribbean and the United States, Clarke explains that it was a “natural incubator for slave revolts.” Slaves were brought in large numbers and generally kept together. The slave owners thought that by keeping groups of slaves together the Africans “would communicate with each other and more could be accomplished.” Clarke notes, however, that this communication also served to facilitate slave revolts. Another interesting discussion in this book is the discussion of the American colonization movement or the back-to-Africa movement, This movement, spearheaded by the American Colonization Society, and strongly influenced by events in Haiti, sought to return free blacks to Africa as a means of eliminating the threat of insurrection which the large number of free blacks was believed to pose to whites in the United States.

Davis, David Brion. The Slave Power Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.
This author theorizes that American politics in general is marked by many examples of situations in which conflicts are made worse by the projection of conspiracy theories onto opponents. The belief in a conspiracy–which often does not exist at all–has been responsible for creating tensions greater than are warranted by the reality. With respect to the events leading up to the Civil War, this author suggests that both southerners and northerners were prone to paranoia. Southerners inherited the paranoia of French conservatives who attributed the St. Domingue slave revolt to the “undercover agents and inflammatory propaganda of the Amis des Noirs, who were seen in France as saboteurs employed by Britain, much as British abolitionists were charged with being the tools of French Jacobinism. The myth that abolitionists were directly responsible for the bloodbath of Santo Domingo became an entrenched part of master class ideology, in Latin America as well as the United States.” In turn, northerners viewed southern slave owners through a paranoid lens, fearing that this relative minority intended to take over the federal government. According to the author, the paranoia among northerners meant that even those who were not particularly sympathetic to the plight of the slaves nonetheless supported emancipation as a means of defeating the perceived threat from the slave owners.

DeConde, Alexander. This Affair of Louisiana. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976.
As its name suggests, this book provided me with an informative background on the dealings that led to the sale of the Louisiana territory to the United States.

DeVoto, Bernard. The Course of Empire. [1952]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
This book contains an excellent, concise summary of the driving forces behind the Haitian Revolution and the French invasion of Haiti. The book also sets forth the conflicting views of the United States about Haiti. On the one hand, Americans–particularly the Abolitionists–focused on Toussaint Louverture as a hero in that he had led the successful Haitian Revolution, Americans also wanted to maintain Haiti as a trading partner, and therefore sought to had an interest in maintaining good relations with the new nation. At the same time, however, as the author explains, from the beginning, American leaders including Washington, Jefferson, and Adams feared the spread of slave unrest to this country from Haiti.
The book also contains an interesting discussion of the considerations that went into Napoleon’s decision to sell Louisiana. Among the most interesting facts noted in this book is Napoleon’s prediction of the consequences of the sale for France. Barbe-Marbois, the minister of finance who conducted the negotiations for France, quotes Napoleon as having said: “This accession of territory consolidates the power of the United States forever, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.” As DeVoto notes, “The unifier of Europe and the remaker of the world, who had also ended forever the dream of a North American France, was here looking down a long arc of time with great clarity.”

Ferrell, Robert and Richard Natkiel. Atlas of American History. Greenwich: Brompton Books, 1993.
This book is an atlas which covers many of the major events in U.S. history. For my purposes, however, the book was primarily useful for its discussion of the process of expansion begun by the Louisiana Purchase and the discussion of the events leading up to the Civil War and how those events were affected by expansion. This book makes a good argument that not only did expansion further polarize the North and South over the issue of slavery, but that the expansion begun with Louisiana also resulted in a linking of the agriculture of the Middle West with the industrialism of the Northeast, ultimately accentuating the regionalism that lay at the heart of the Civil War. With respect to the Civil War, this book says categorically that, although historians in the past have pointed “variously to a difference in economic systems, disagreement on constitutional law, or a failure of leadership in both [North and South]” to explain the Civil War, “these theories ignored the root cause of it all: slavery.” And the Louisiana expansion did much to heighten tensions over slavery.

Fick, Carolyn E. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990.
This book is a very interesting account of the Haitian Revolution. It is unlike the other books I read in its major thesis. This author argues that it was not Toussaint or any of the leaders of the Revolution who were the dominant figures in the revolt; rather it was the uneducated slaves who were the principal architects of their own freedom. This book devotes particular attention to the role played by the fugitive slaves (called maroons) in orchestrating the fight for independence.

Geracimos, Ann. “A Mystery in Miniature,” Smithsonian Magazine. Washington, D.C.: January, 2000, Vol. 30: pages. 20-21.
This article, although brief, was very helpful in explaining U.S. reaction to the Haitian Revolution at the time it occurred. The author points out that President Adams, who was from the North, wanted to increase trade with Haiti and, therefore, thought it was important for the Revolution to succeed. By contrast, Thomas Jefferson took a different view. Reflecting his southern roots, he was concerned that if the Haitian rebellion succeeded, there was a good chance that it might spread to the U.S.

Hunt, Alfred W. Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.
This book was easily the best book I read concerning the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the United States. Not only is the book clear and well-written, but is also provides a host of primary source material reflecting the views of people living in the South in the pre-Civil War era which reflects just how deeply the Haitian Revolution and the fears it spawned impacted the attitude of the South toward slavery. It was this book that first made clear to me just how great an impact the Haitian Revolution had in creating the sharp polarity between North and South over the issue of slavery, which contributed to the Civil War. Although I used this book principally as a source for connecting the Haitian Revolution with the American Civil War, the scope of the impact of the Haitian Revolution on this country was far broader than its contribution to the American Civil War. Hunt shows in this book just how profoundly Haitian emigrants affected America, particularly Louisiana, where Haitian influence is seen in everything from language to politics, religion, culture, architecture, and cuisine.

James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. [1938] 3d ed. London: Allison & Busby, 1980.
This book is a passionate, perhaps less-than-objective look at the Haitian Revolution by an author who clearly views Toussaint as a hero. Despite the clear philosophical bias of the book, it is a useful (and often cited by other historians) discussion of the slave revolt. The book does an excellent job of discussing the plight of the black slaves in Haiti and explaining the emotional underpinnings of the Revolution.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998.
This book contains an excellent analysis of the Louisiana Purchase, its history and its consequences for the United States. The author asserts that the “most important inducement to immigration of 1800s was cheap land…. In the entire history of the United States, the land purchase system was the single most benevolent act of government.” Although the policy by which the government sold land to settlers for $2 an acre pre-dated the Louisiana Purchase, the acquisition of that vast territory greatly expanded the program. According to this source, the occupation of the Mississippi Valley involving an area the size of western Europe, “marked the point at which the United States ceased to be a small struggling ex-colony and turned itself into a major nation.”
This book is also an excellent source for the background of the Civil War, including the pressures created by the rapid expansion of cotton plantations into the new territory encompassed within the Louisiana Purchase. According to the author, it was the huge growth of the cotton industry, fostered by European demand for cotton and made possible by Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, that created “the South” as a “special phenomenon, a culture, a cast of mind….” In the Deep South, carved out of the Louisiana territory, cotton was king and plantation owners were deeply indebted to slavery. “With so much money invested in slavery it was not surprising that the South ceased to apologize for slavery and began to defend it.” This defense of slavery increased the rift with the North that would lead to the Civil War.

Knight, Franklin W. “AHR Forum–The Haitian Revolution.” Amer. Hist. Rev. Vol. 105, No. 1 (February 2000): 109-115.
This very recent article is directly on point for my paper because it discusses the importance of the Haitian Revolution in history. This article does a great job of underscoring the interrelationship of events in other parts of the world and the Haitian Revolution. This author also describes how the Haitian Revolution impacted the world in ways that went beyond the United States (and, thus, beyond the scope of this paper).

Knight, Franklin W. The African Dimension in Latin American Societies. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1974.
This short book provides a good overview of the slave trade and its effect on the entire New World (including the United States). I found particularly interesting the author’s discussion of how the practice of slavery varied from country to country and how various circumstances and institutions impacted the conditions to which the slaves were subjected. For example, the author notes that in some parts of the Caribbean during the time preceding the Haitian Revolution–although not in Haiti itself–“the Church spoke out not against slavery but in favor of amelioration of the conditions of slave labor.” The author notes, however, that the Church “at no time opposed slavery. It actively supported the status quo, it owned slaves, and it vigorously participated in the slave economy. The Jesuits gained a reputation for benevolence and humanitarianism toward their African slaves, yet even they did not oppose the institution of slavery at any time.” In the colony of Haiti, the Church turned a deaf ear toward the cries of the slaves.

Lacy, Dan. The Abolitionists. St. Louis: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1978.
This book, which is about the history of the Abolitionist movement in the United States, has a good discussion of why the Northern Abolitionists were so angered by the introduction of slaves into the new Louisiana territory.

Louisiana Purchase 1803,”…&u=/a/acp/db/dtou/ index.html&r=1&f=g. Online. World Wide Web. 2/2/00.
Although short, this article provided me with a concise summary of why Napoleon wanted Louisiana and why he ended up selling it. It also identified three consequences of the Louisiana Purchase of which I was not aware.

Lyon, Wilson E. Louisiana in French Diplomacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974.
This book contains an excellent discussion of why Napoleon wanted Louisiana, and why it was so important for the United States to own it. Also, the book contains a good discussion of the consequences for the United States of the acquisition of the Louisiana territory.

McPherson, James M. The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.
The author of this book is a noted scholar on the American Civil War. This book focuses, as the title indicates, on the struggle of the Negro for equality both during and after the Civil War. While the primary focus of the book is on events that are beyond the scope of my paper, this book has an excellent discussion of how Abolitionists countered the argument that blacks were innately inferior to whites by reference to the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint L’Ouverture. McPherson notes that the advocates of racial equality, looking for “authentic black heroes” focused on Toussaint who was “[b]y all odds, the greatest of these.” Wendell Phillips, one of the leading abolitionists, gave as one of his “most powerful and compelling lectures” a biography of Toussaint as a means of dramatizing the fitness of blacks for freedom. In an excerpt from that speech, Phillips argued that “Hayti, from the ruins of her colonial dependence, is become a civilized state, the seventh nation in the catalogue of commerce with this country, inferior in morals and education to none of the West Indian isles. Toussaint made her what she is. Courage, purpose, endurance–they are the tests.”

Meinig, D.W. Continental America, 1800-1867. Hampton: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993, Vol. 2.
Although this book covers a large period of time in American history, it was a very good source because it has an extensive section on the importance of Louisiana to the United States and, also, a small section on how the rebellion of the slaves in Haiti forced U.S. slaveowners to be even harsher to its own slaves out of fear that what happened in Haiti would be repeated in the United States.

Merk, Frederick. History of the Westward Movement. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.
As its name suggests, this book is a comprehensive history of the westward movements in the United States and its impact on the course of history. This book provided support for a number of my theses about the importance of the Louisiana territory as a turning point in American history. Specifically, it both confirms the importance of the Louisiana territory in shaping the country, by opening vistas to the west and encouraging immigration, for example. It also, however, underscores the fact that the expansion started by Louisiana intensified sectional problems, including that of the spread of slavery which led to the Civil War.

Merk, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.
This book is a study of public opinion regarding expansionist drives in the United States in the nineteenth century. The book explores the push for expansion that began with the Louisiana Purchase and grew into the cry of manifest destiny. This book, which is an in-depth look at all the forces shaping manifest destiny, went far beyond the scope of my paper. However, it was useful in underscoring for me just how important the idea of expansion has been historically in the development of the American character.

Rogozinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean. New York: The Penguin Group, 1992.
This book is a concise, well written history of the entire Caribbean region. It was helpful to me because it placed the Haitian Revolution in the context of a much larger history. It does a particularly good job of describing the life of a Haitian slave, noting, for example, that the nature of sugar cane as a crop made the work of a slave on the sugar plantations more back-breaking than was true of the work of slaves on, for example, cotton plantations..

Scott, Juliua Sherrard, III. The Common Wind: Currents of Afro-American Communication in the Era of the Haitian Revolution. PhD Diss. Duke University, 1986. Durham: University Press, 1986.
This PhD disssertation was called to my attention by one of the judges of my paper at the regional level. It is a tremendous source of information on my topic. This dissertation discusses how the ideas underlying the Haitian Revolution were connected to the French Revolution and how they were subsequently communicated to many parts of the world, including the United States. The dissertation contains an excellent discussion of the origins of the Haitian Revolution. For purposes of my paper, however, the dissertation was probably most helpful in the support it provided for my thesis–that events in Haiti were communicated to the United States where they greatly impacted the course of our history. The author explains how the communication occurred, noting, for example, that U.S. vessels involved in trade were a prime source of communication. The author also discusses how important Haiti became to Afro Americans in this country as a battle cry of freedom. The author notes that nineteenth century Afro-North American historians like ex-slave William Wells Brown characterized the Haitian Revolution as “the pivotal event in the history of Afro-Americans.” The author of this dissertation argues that “[u]p to the present day, Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution continue to occupy a central place in the cultural memory of blacks in North America.”

Wexler, Alan. Atlas of Western Expansion. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1995.
As this book’s name suggests, it is a very good source of information on how the Louisiana Purchase started a series of expansions, in the process setting a precedent on how the United States would acquire territory in the future.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995.
This book is a broad history of the United States. For my purposes, it was interesting for two reasons. It contains a good description of a sad chapter in America’s history which is integrally bound up in U.S. expansion–the adoption of a policy of “Indian Removal.” The Louisiana territory provided a way for the young U.S. to deal with its “Indian problem” without having to go to war. Jefferson, in fact, proposed to Congress after the acquisition of Louisiana that Indians should be encouraged to settle down on small tracts and do farming within the new territory. The reason for the Indian Removal policy and its impact can be seen, in part, through statistics. In 1790, there were 3,900,000 Americans, most of them living within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. By 1830, there were 13 million Americans and by 1840, 4,500,000 of them had crossed into the Mississippi Valley. To make room for white settlers, the Indians had to be moved. In 1820, 120,000 Indians lived east of the Mississippi River. However, by 1844, all but 30,000 had been forced to migrate west. The Louisiana territory made this forced migration possible and, in the process, spared the U.S. a potentially costly military confrontation.


1 C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution ]1928] 3d ed. (London: Allison & Busby, 1980), vii.

2 Patrick E. Bryan, The Haitian Revolution and After (University of Minnesota Thesis, 1983) 6; see also James, vii (claiming that St. Domingue was responsible for an even higher percent–two-thirds–of France’s overseas trade).

3 See generally Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990), 15-17 (discussing the economic structure of St. Domingue and the caste society of the colony in the pre-Revolution days).

4 George F. Tyson, ed., Toussaint Louverture Great Lives Observed Series (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1971) 6.

5 Ibid; Franklin W. Knight, The African Dimension in Latin American Societies (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1974) 64.

6 Ibid; Bryan, 19 (noting that, in 1767, on the larger plantations, there were on average only three whites to every three or four hundred Africans. On smaller plantations, the ratio was even more disadvantageous for the whites–one or two whites to three hundred or four hundred blacks).

7 Tyson, 6; Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean (New York: The Penguin Group, 1992) 138-39.

8 Ibid; see also James, 5-6 (describing cruelty to which slaves were subjected).

9 Rogozinski, 164-65; Julius Scott III, The Common Wind: Currents of Afro American Communication in the Era of the Haitian Revolution PhD dissertation. (Durham: Duke University, 1986) 1.

10 Tyson, 10.

11 Ibid.

12 Knight, 42.

13 See Bernard DeVoto, The Course of Empire [1952] (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998) 388.

14 Fick, 206.

15 DeVoto, 388.

16 Fick, 313.

17 DeVoto, 589.

18 Ibid. Shortly thereafter, Leclerc himself died of yellow fever.

19 Rogozinski, 172.

20 Blumberg, 116.

21 James P. Barry, The Louisiana Purchase (New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1973) 80 (quoting noted American historian Henry Adams).

22 Blumberg, 77.

23 Ibid, 32.

24 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998) 290 (calling successful settlement of the Mississippi Valley “one of the decisive events in history. By means of it, America became truly dynamic, emerging from the eastern seaboard…into the great river valleys beyond.”).

25 The vast Louisiana territory also enabled the young United States to avoid a potentially disastrous military confrontation over the removal of Indians from land coveted by white settlers by providing a territory into which the Indians could be “relocated” as settlers moved into the Mississippi Valley. See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492 – Present (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) 124-25.

26 Barry, 81.

27 Ibid.

28 Johnson, 317-19.

29 Robert Ferrell and Richard Natkiel, Atlas of American History (Greenwich: Brompton Books, 1993) 47; Johnson, 310.

30 Ferrell, 44 (the process of expansion begun by the Louisiana Purchase led directly to the American Civil War. “This war came from rapid expansion and the creation of new states.”); D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America, A Geographical Perspective of 500 Years of History, Continental America, 1800-1867 Vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993) 457 (discussing Bleeding Kansas and events leading up to it).

31 Alfred W. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988) 190. See also Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts [1943] 5th ed. (New York: International Publishers, 1987) 368 (“There are few phases of ante-bellum Southern life and history that were not in some way influenced by the fear of, or the actual outbreak of, militant concerted slave action.”).

32 Althia de Puech Parham, ed., My Odyssey, Experiences of a Young Refugee from Two Revolutions By a Creole of Saint Domingue (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959) 28.

33 Martin Rus, Night of Fire: The Black Napoleon and the Battle for Haiti (New York: Sarpedon Publishers, Inc., 1994) 5-6. See also A Particular Account of the Commencement and Progress of the Insurrection of the Negroes in St. Domingo (London: J. Sewell, 1792) 5-9 (describing brutal slaughter of whites).

34 Hunt, 115.

35 Thomas O. Ott, The Haitian Revolution (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1973) 195.

36 Ott, 196. See also Zinn, 169 (noting that the Vesey trial record itself “was ordered destroyed soon after publication, as too dangerous for slaves to see.”); Hunt, 181 (noting that John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry may also have been inspired, at least in part, by the Haitian Revolt. Brown, who had hoped that his raid would ignite a general slave uprising, admitted at his trial to having read widely about Toussaint Louverture).

37 See generally Ott, 196; Hunt, 107-47.

38 Meining, 22; see also Appendix.

39 Ott, 195.

40 Aptheker, 373.

41 Ibid.



BY: Jim Thomson