Title of Course: Black History 201: The History of Haiti

Instructor: Mba Mbulu

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Class #10: The French Revolution / France, Part 1 [ Audio Version]

Read the Essay below. Be able to answer and expound on the following questions.


(1) What is the French Revolution and how does it relate to San Domingo?
(2) Was the French Revolution a revolution of the masses or a revolution of propertied classes?
(3) What was the Declaration of the Rights of Man? Was it meant to apply to all men, including people of color?
(4) Were the French masses concerned about the welfare of the slaves in San Domingo?

Class #10 Essay

What is referred to as the French Revolution is several historical realities wound together so tightly that they seem like one concerted movement. Concerted it was not. The French Revolution was, in the beginning, an attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie, a relatively new middle class, to change the power balance between themselves and the monarchy (king). However, the masses wanted economic concessions like reduced tax loads and greater ownership of property, and the ones in Paris began acting out a political posture by rioting and attacking figures of authority. In attempts to get the support of the masses in their struggle against each other, both the King and the bourgeoisie took measures they would not have considered taking otherwise. As a result, the French Revolution went farther than the bourgeoisie wanted it to go and produced political and social changes that no one had given serious consideration to previously.

The biggest unanticipated development early on was the Declaration of the Rights of Man. When the masses stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, it was a show of power that intimidated the king and frightened the bourgeoisie. In order to slow down the masses and take advantage of this blow against the king's power, the bourgeoisie led Assembly met and drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which abolished feudal caste distinctions and declared that all men were born free and equal. The king refused to sign the Declaration. Hearing this, the masses marched on Versailles (the King's palace), took the king captive and forced him to sign the Declaration. Soon after, mulattoes, many of them just as rich as anyone else in France, were claiming that the Rights of Man should apply to them as well. This interjection of color into the issue caught the French bourgeoisie by surpise, even those who would have called themselves liberal, and placed them in a quandary. Some of the bourgeoisie were willing to include the mulattoes, but those whites who had colonial interests were firmly against the idea. Making concessions like that would lead to too many changes in the colonies, including not only the relationship of whites to mulattoes but to slaves also. The bourgeoisie, unanimous on the Rights of Man before the color issue came into play, was now split in two over it.
And split they remained for quite some time, effectively doing nothing about it. The mulattoes continued to agitate around the issue, but the French bourgeoisie was content to ignore the issue for as long as possible.

At this point, the French masses had not even considered the race issue. Thus, none of the major players in the French Revolution were interested in the plight of people of color.

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