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

Instructor: Mba Mbulu

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Class #15: Toussaint's Dilemma [ Audio Version]

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


(1) Why didn't Toussaint L'Ouverture declare independence from France once he gained control of San Domingo (Haiti)?
(2) What was Toussaint's Dilemma?
(3) Was Toussaint's Dilemma valid, or was it a result of Toussaint outthinking himself?
(4) What was the eventual consequence of Toussaint's Dilemma?
(5) Was there a lesson to be learned from Toussaint's Dilemma?

Class #15 Essay

Toussaint was in control of San Domingo now, and the Black and colored people there were free. But Toussaint did not declare the island's independence. Instead, he declared that San Domingo was the equivalent of a self governing French possession. He opted to make that move because Toussaint wanted more than freedom and independence for San Domingo. Toussaint wanted a secure present and promising future as well, and he knew that would be impossible if the white power countries isolated San Domingo and economically strangulated the country. If independence were gained in a diplomatic way, Toussaint thought, it was possible that the white powers would not strangle San Domingo to death. If independence were gained unilaterally by the defiant power of military force, Toussaint was convinced the white countries would make it impossible for the new Black country to carry on as countries normally carry on.

Toussaint's Dilemma, then, was borne of his desire to have white power nations treat a Black Power nation as they would treat white power nations. Toussaint's Dilemma was borne of his desire to have white power nations respect the humanity of his people, and the right of Black People to live, prosper and progress to the same extent other people are allowed to live, prosper and progress. Because of the military foundation he had laid, Toussaint knew that the Blacks could take the next step and declare their independence any time they pleased, with or without him. But in order for San Domingo to have a normal future, Toussaint was convinced that Ayiti had to have normal international relations with white countries. That is why he failed to declare independence, that is why he constantly tried to establish diplomatic relations with the United States, Spain and Great Britain, and that is why he wanted to work out some kind of accord with France and Napoleon Bonaparte. Toussaint was so convinced that normal relations with the white powers was essential, that he agreed to attend a meeting with the French that he knew was more likely a trap than anything else. As soon as Toussaint arrived at the meeting place, he was arrested and shipped to Jura (the Alpine Mountains), far away from Ayiti. He died there.

When Napoleon Bonaparte offered Toussaint the opportunity to negotiate with him over the future of San Domingo, Toussaint and everyone else figured it was a trap. Jean Jacques Dessalines, Toussaint's most powerful general, advised Toussaint not to go, but Toussaint went anyway. Ironically enough, by willfully walking into Napoleon's trap, Toussaint deprived Haiti of one of the factors Ayiti needed more than the cooperation of white countries. That factor was his leadership.

Toussaint's Dilemma was a valid one, but Toussaint erred when he placed more importance on white cooperation than the genius and resourcefulness of the Haitian people. When he picked up a gun and proclaimed, "Here is your liberty!" to the Haitian people, he should have realized that the gun was only a tool. The real power was the people. When military action was needed, they could use the gun to take care of business. When economic and political action was needed, they could pick up other appropriate tools and use them in a way that would serve their needs. With the cooperation of white nations, a healthy Haiti was realizable. Without the cooperation of white countries, a healthy Haiti would be more difficult to establish, but a healthy Haiti was still realizable. With the genius and resourcefulness of the Haitian people and Toussaint's leadership, Haiti would have been much better off than it was after Toussaint deliberately walked into Napoleon's trap.

Because of Toussaint's Dilemma, Toussaint died prematurely and Haiti's people have suffered more than they should have. But revolutionaries like Fidel Castro learned a valuable lesson.

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