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

Instructor: Mba Mbulu

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Class #17: A Stacked Deck [ Audio Version]

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

(1) Whoever became the leader of Haiti would be playing against a stacked deck. Why is that so?
(2) What were the internal and external conflicts that were to militate against Haiti's emergence as a stable country?
(3) What did Napoleon plan to do to the 500,000 Blacks in San Domingo? Are you surprised that he planned such an extreme solution?
(4) What did Toussaint L'Ouverture think was needed to help his country function normally?
(5) Dessalines was able to handle the military issues facing Haiti, but not the others. Why?
(6) What did Dessalines' death augur?

Class #17 Essay

Jean Jacques Dessalines emerged as the leader of a nation of people scarred by slavery, color complexes, the worst experiences and tenuous possibilities. Haiti's very fiber was conflict laden; slaves and masters against each other, Blacks, mulattoes and whites against each other, whites in San Domingo and whites in France against each other. At every turn and at every level there had been friction, there continued to be friction. Dessalines inherited a situation where all of the social, political and economic forces that were most opposed to each other were at their most elevated state of anxiety. Each of them had to be placated enough to allow a new environment to emerge, a new way of interacting to cut its path, a new way of thinking to take hold.

Added to these complexities was the hatred of white power countries that were intent on making life hell for the new Black country. The confluence of all of these complexities was part of the reason Toussaint was reluctant to declare independence. Toussaint might have felt that as long as the island was tied to France, each of the contentious factions would be less likely to spiral out of control. Even with Toussaint present, that would have been a near impossible tightrope to walk.

Napoleon, who was planning to kill the 500,000 Blacks in San Domingo and completely repopulate the island with new slaves from Africa, responded to Toussaint's declaration that San Domingo was a self governing dependency of France by sending more troops and challenging Toussaint's authority. This destroyed the delicate balancing act Toussaint had been engineering and plunged San Domingo into a deeper level of crisis. Any chance anyone might have had of leading Haiti to economic prosperity and social calm was seriously damaged, and Ayiti's descent into an inferno was all but guaranteed.

When Toussaint was arrested, Dessalines took control of the revolution and declared that Haitians would have either liberty or death. All of the other Black and mulatto leaders rallied behind Dessalines, recognized him as their leader and swore to die rather than remain tied to France. Dessalines declared independence, renamed the country Haiti (Ayiti, land of mountains) and created the Haitian flag by ripping the white from a French flag, symbolically suggesting the total removal of all white people out of Haiti.

In 1804, Dessalines crowned himself emperor, dubbing himself Jacques I. He proved himself more than capable of handling the military conflicts between his country and France. But the conflicts within the new country needed to be resolved differently, and Dessalines did not have what it took to handle them. He had always hated the whites and was scared they would attempt to re-invade his country, so he spent a lot of money on the military and resolved to murder each and every white person in Ayiti. The decision to massacre the whites generated a breach between him and Henri Christophe, his ablest general and the man he named to succeed him as emperor. As he was trying to reestablish the economy, he instituted forced-labor laws and other drastic measures that alienated most of the Blacks. Dessalines was also distrustful of the mulattoes, and declared that every one in the country would be called Black, regardless of their complexion. This did not please the mulattoes at all.

In 1806, while only in his late 40s, Dessalines was murdered by political rivals. His assassination was the first of many, and augured a legacy of political instability and social demise that has plagued Haiti ever since.

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