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- Freedom of religion (Under Toussaint, Catholicism had been declared the official state religion);
- All citizens of Haiti, regardless of skin color, to be known as “Black” (this was an attempt to eliminate the multi-tiered racial hierarchy that had developed in Haiti, with full or near full-blooded Europeans at the top, various levels of light to brown skin in the middle, and dark skinned “Kongo” from Africa at the bottom).
- White men were forbidden from possessing property or domain on Haitian soil. Should the French return to reimpose slavery, Article 5 of the constitution declared: “At the first shot of the warning gun, the towns shall be destroyed and the nation will rise in arms.”
PART ONE: Pre-Spanish history
Successive waves of Arawak migrants, moving northward from the Orinoco delta in South America, settled the islands of the Caribbean. Around AD 600, the Taíno Indians, an Arawak culture, arrived on the island, displacing the previous inhabitants. They were organized into cacicazgos (chiefdoms), each led by a cacique (chief).
The Taíno people called the island Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (high grounds, or sacred land). At the time of Columbus’s arrival in 1492, the island’s territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. Two of these chiefdoms, Marien and Jaragua, were on the territory of present-day Haiti. Guacanagarix, who ruled Marien from his capital El Guarico near present-day Cap-Haïtien, met Columbus and gave him permission to construct La Navidad. Jaragua was the largest caique on the island and ruled by Bohechío and his sister Anacaona, who ruled from its capital Yaguana near present-day Léogâne, and later came into conflict with the Spanish.
PART TWO: Spanish history (1492–1625)
Christopher Columbus established the settlement, La Navidad, near the modern town of Cap-Haïtien. It was built from the timbers of his wrecked ship, Santa María, during his first voyage in December 1492. When he returned in 1493 on his second voyage he found the settlement had been destroyed and all 39 settlers killed. Columbus continued east and founded a new settlement at La Isabela on the territory of the present-day Dominican Republic in 1493. The capital of the colony was moved to Santo Domingo in 1496, on the south west coast of the island also in the territory of the present-day Dominican Republic. The Spanish returned to western Hispaniola in 1502, establishing a settlement at Yaguana, near modern-day Léogâne. A second settlement was established on the north coast in 1504 called Puerto Real near modern Fort-Liberté – which in 1578 was relocated to a nearby site and renamed Bayaha.
Following the arrival of Europeans, La Hispaniola’s indigenous population suffered near extinction, in possibly the worst case of depopulation in the Americas. A commonly accepted hypothesis attributes the high mortality of this colony in part to Old World diseases to which the natives had no immunity. A small number of Taínos were able to survive and set up villages elsewhere. Spanish interest in Hispaniola began to wane in the 1520s, as more lucrative gold and silver deposits were found in Mexico and South America. Thereafter, the population of Spanish Hispaniola grew at a slow pace.
The settlement of Yacanagua was burnt to the ground three times in its just over a century long existence as a Spanish settlement, first by French pirates in 1543, again on 27 May 1592 by a 110 strong landing party from a 4 ship English naval squadron led by Christopher Newport in his flagship Golden Dragon, who destroyed all 150 houses in the settlement, and finally by the Spanish themselves in 1605.
In 1595, the Spanish, frustrated by the 20-year rebellion of their Dutch subjects, closed their home ports to rebel shipping from the Netherlands, cutting them off from the critical salt supplies necessary for their herring industry. The Dutch responded by sourcing new salt supplies from Spanish America where colonists were more than happy to trade. So large numbers of Dutch traders/pirates joined their English and French brethren trading on the remote coasts of Hispaniola.
In 1605, Spain was infuriated that Spanish settlements on the northern and western coasts of the island persisted in carrying out large scale and illegal trade with the Dutch, who were at that time fighting a war of independence against Spain in Europe and the English, a very recent enemy state, and so decided to forcibly resettle their inhabitants closer to the city of Santo Domingo. This action, known as the Devastaciones de Osorio, proved disastrous; more than half of the resettled colonists died of starvation or disease, over 100,000 cattle were abandoned, and many slaves escaped. Five of the existing thirteen settlements on the island were brutally razed by Spanish troops including the two settlements on the territory of present-day Haiti, La Yaguana, and Bayaja. Many of the inhabitants fought, escaped to the jungle, or fled to the safety of passing Dutch ships. This Spanish action was counterproductive as English, Dutch, and French pirates were now free to establish bases on the island’s abandoned northern and western coasts, where wild cattle were now plentiful and free.
PART THREE: French Saint-Domingue (1625–1789)
SECTION ONE: The Foundation of a Colony (1625–1711)
French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in 1625, and were soon joined by like-minded English and Dutch privateers and pirates, who formed a lawless international community that survived by preying on Spanish ships and hunting wild cattle. Although the Spanish destroyed the buccaneers’ settlements in 1629, 1635, 1638 and 1654, on each occasion they returned. In 1655, the newly established English administration on Jamaica sponsored the re-occupation of Tortuga under Elias Watts as governor. In 1660, the English made the mistake of replacing Watts as governor by a Frenchman Jeremie Deschamps, on condition he defended English interests. Deschamps on taking control of the island proclaimed for the King of France, set up French colors, and defeated several English attempts to reclaim the island. It is from this point in 1660 that unbroken French rule in Haiti begins.
In 1663, Deschamps founded a French settlement Léogâne on the western coast of the island on the abandoned site of the former Spanish town of Yaguana.
In 1664, the newly established French West India Company took control of the new colony, and France formally claimed control of the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. In 1665, they established a French settlement on the mainland of Hispaniola opposite Tortuga at Port-de-Paix. In 1670, the headland of Cap Français (now Cap-Haïtien), was settled further to the east along the northern coast. In 1676, the colonial capital was moved from Tortuga to Port-de-Paix.
In 1684, the French and Spanish signed the Treaty of Ratisbon that included provisions to suppress the actions of the Caribbean privateers, which effectively ended the era of the buccaneers on Tortuga, many being employed by the French Crown to hunt down any of their former comrades who preferred to turn outright pirate. Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially ceded the western three-eighths of Hispaniola to France which renamed the colony Saint-Domingue.
By that time, planters outnumbered buccaneers and, with the encouragement of Louis XIV, they had begun to grow tobacco, indigo, cotton, and cacao on the fertile northern plain, thus prompting the importation of African slaves, the ancestors of today’s Haitians. Slave insurrections were frequent and some slaves escaped to the mountains where they were met by what would be one of the last generations of Taíno natives.
After the last Taíno (Arawak) died, the full-blooded Arawak population on the island was “falsely said to be extinct.” Today, many people are in search of their Taíno Arawak roots, some as a spiritual movement, some as a political movement, some as a cultural movement, though none are so far acknowledged as autochthones (aboriginal inhabitants) by the political governments on either side of Hispaniola and the split between the two sides of the island has so far continued.
SECTION TWO: THE PEARL OF THE ANTILLES (1711–89)
In 1711, the city of Cap-Français (now Cap Haitien) was formally established by Louis XIV and took over as capital of the colony from Port-de-Paix. In 1726, the city of Les Cayes was founded on the Southern coast which became the biggest settlement in the south. In 1749, the city of Port-au-Prince was established on the West coast, which in 1770 took over as the capital of the colony from Cap-Français, however that same year the 1770 Port-au-Prince earthquake and tsunami destroyed the city killing 200 people immediately, and 30,000 later from famine and disease brought on by the natural disaster. This was the second major earthquake to hit Saint-Domingue as it followed the 1751 Port-au-Prince earthquake which had left only a single stone built building standing in the town.
Prior to the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), the economy of Saint-Domingue gradually expanded, with sugar and, later, coffee becoming important export crops. After the war, which disrupted maritime commerce, the colony underwent rapid expansion. In 1767, it exported 72 million pounds of raw sugar and 51 million pounds of refined sugar, one million pounds of indigo, and two million pounds of cotton. Saint-Domingue became known as the “Pearl of the Antilles” – the richest colony in the 18th century French empire. By the 1780s, Saint-Domingue produced about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee consumed in Europe. This single colony, roughly the size of Hawaii or Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain’s West Indian colonies combined.
The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves (accounting in 1783–91 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade). Between 1764 and 1771, the average importation of slaves varied between 10,000–15,000, by 1786 about 28,000, and, from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population, by 1789, totaled 500,000, ruled over by a white population that, by 1789, numbered only 32,000. At all times, a majority of slaves in the colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery prevented the population from experiencing growth through natural increase. African culture thus remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou, which commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the beliefs and practices of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey. Slave traders scoured the Atlantic coast of Africa, and the slaves who arrived came from hundreds of different tribes, their languages often mutually incomprehensible.
To regularize slavery, in 1685 Louis XIV enacted the Code Noir, which accorded certain human rights to slaves and responsibilities to the master, who was obliged to feed, clothe, and provide for the general well-being of their slaves. The code noir also sanctioned corporal punishment, allowing masters to employ brutal methods to instill in their slaves the necessary docility, while ignoring provisions intended to regulate the administration of punishments.
Thousands of slaves found freedom by fleeing from their masters, forming communities of maroons and raiding isolated plantations. The most famous was Mackandal, a one-armed slave, originally from Guinea, who escaped in 1751. A Vodou Houngan (priest), he united many of the different maroon bands. He spent the next six years staging successful raids and evading capture by the French, reputedly killing over 6,000 people, while preaching a fanatic vision of the destruction of white civilization in St. Domingue. In 1758, after a failed plot to poison the drinking water of the plantation owners, he was captured and burned alive at the public square in Cap-Français.
Saint-Domingue also had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, the gens de couleur (French, “people of color”). The mixed-race community in Saint-Domingue numbered 25,000 in 1789. First-generation gens de couleur were typically the offspring of a male, French slave-owner and an African slave chosen as a concubine. In the French colonies, the semi-official institution of “plaçage” defined this practice. By this system, the children were free people and could inherit property, thus originating a class of “mulattos” with property and some with wealthy fathers. This class occupied a middle status between African slaves and French colonists. Africans who attained freedom also enjoyed status as gens de couleur.
As numbers of gens de couleur grew, the French rulers enacted discriminatory laws. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. However, these regulations did not restrict their purchase of land, and many accumulated substantial holdings and became slave-owners. By 1789, they owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves of Saint-Domingue. Central to the rise of the gens de couleur planter class was the growing importance of coffee, which thrived on the marginal hillside plots to which they were often relegated. The largest concentration of gens de couleur was in the southern peninsula, the last region of the colony to be settled, owing to its distance from Atlantic shipping lanes and its formidable terrain, with the highest mountain range in the Caribbean.
PART FOUR: REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD (1789–1804)
SECTION ONE: Ogé’s revolt (1789–91)
The outbreak of revolution in France in the summer of 1789 had a powerful effect on the colony. While the French settlers debated how new revolutionary laws would apply to Saint-Domingue, outright civil war broke out in 1790 when the free men of color claimed they too were French citizens under the terms of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Ten days before the fall of the Bastille, in July 1789, the French National Assembly had voted to seat six delegates from Saint-Domingue. In Paris, a group of wealthy mulattoes, led by Julien Raimond and Vincent Ogé, unsuccessfully petitioned the white planter delegates to support mulatto claims for full civil and political rights. Through the efforts of a group called Société d’Amis des Noirs, of which Raimond and Ogé were prominent leaders, in March 1790 the National Assembly granted full civic rights to the gens de couleur. Vincent Ogé traveled to St. Domingue to secure the promulgation and implementation of this decree, landing near Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) in October 1790 and petitioning the royal governor, the Comte de Peynier. After his demands were refused, he attempted to incite the gens de couleur to revolt. Ogé and Jean-Baptiste Chavennes, a veteran of the Siege of Savannah during the American Revolution, attempted to attack Cap-Français. However, the mulatto rebels refused to arm or free their slaves, or to challenge the status of slavery, and their attack was defeated by a force of white militia and black volunteers (including Henri Christophe). Afterwards, they fled across the frontier to Hinche, at the time in the Spanish part of the island. However, they were captured, returned to the French authorities, and both Ogé and Chavennes were executed in February 1791.
SECTION TWO: THE RISING OF THE SLAVES (1791–93)
On 14 August 1791, slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a revolt that began the Haitian Revolution. Tradition marks the beginning of the revolution at a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman (Alligator Woods) near Cap-Français. The call to arms was issued by a Houngan (Vodou priest) named Dutty Boukman. Within hours, the northern plantations were in flames. The rebellion spread through the entire colony. Boukman was captured and executed, but the rebellion continued to spread rapidly.
In 1792, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax was sent to the colony by the French Legislative Assembly as part of the Revolutionary Commission. His main goal was to maintain French control of Saint-Domingue, stabilize the colony, and enforce the social equality recently granted to free people of color by the National Convention of France.
SECTION THREE: TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE ASCENDANT (1793–1802)
On 29 August 1793, Sonthonax took the radical step of proclaiming the freedom of the slaves in the north province (with severe limits on their freedom). In September and October, emancipation was extended throughout the colony. The French National Convention, the first elected Assembly of the First Republic (1792–1804), on 4 February 1794, under the leadership of Maximilien de Robespierre, abolished slavery by law in France and all its colonies. The constitution of 1793, which was never applied, and the constitution of 1795, which was put into effect, did both contain an explicit ban on slavery.
The slaves did not immediately flock to Sonthonax’s banner, however. White colonists continued to fight Sonthonax, with assistance from the British. They were joined by many of the free men of color who opposed the abolition of slavery. It was not until word of France’s ratification of emancipation arrived back in the colony that Toussaint Louverture and his corps of well disciplined, battle-hardened former slaves came over to the French Republican side in early May 1794. A change in the political winds in France caused Sonthonax to be recalled in 1796, but not before taking the step of arming the former slaves.
With the colony facing a full-scale invasion by Britain, the emancipated slave rebels emerged as a powerful military force, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. Louverture successfully drove back the British and by 1798 was the de facto ruler of the colony. In 1799, he defeated the mulatto General André Rigaud, who controlled most of the south and west and refused to acknowledge Toussaint’s authority. By 1801, he was in control of all of Hispaniola, after conquering Spanish Santo Domingo and proclaiming the abolition of slavery there. He did not, however, proclaim full independence for the country, nor did he seek reprisals against the country’s former white slaveholders, convinced that the French would not restore slavery.
SECTION FOUR: NAPOLEON DEFEATED (1802–04)
Toussaint, however, asserted enough independence that in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a massive invasion force, under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, to increase French control. For a time, Leclerc met with some success; he also brought the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola under the direct control of France in accordance with the terms of the 1795 Treaties of Bâle with Spain. With a large expedition that eventually included 40,000 European troops, and receiving help from white colonists and mulatto forces commanded by Alexandre Pétion, a former lieutenant of Rigaud, the French won several victories after severe fighting.
Two of Toussaint’s chief lieutenants, Dessalines and Christophe, recognizing their untenable situation, held separate parleys with the invaders, and agreed to transfer their allegiance. At this point, Leclerc invited Toussaint to negotiate a settlement. It was a deception; Toussaint was seized and deported to France, where he died of pneumonia while imprisoned at Fort de Joux in the Jura Mountains in April 1803.
On 20 May 1802, Napoleon signed a law to maintain slavery where it had not yet disappeared, namely Martinique, Tobago, and Saint Lucia. A confidential copy of this decree was sent to Leclerc, who was authorized to restore slavery in Saint-Domingue when the time was opportune. At the same time, further edicts stripped the gens de couleur of their newly won civil rights. None of these decrees were published or executed in St. Domingue, but, by midsummer, word began to reach the colony of the French intention to restore slavery. The betrayal of Toussaint and news of French actions in Martinique undermined the collaboration of leaders such as Dessalines, Christophe, and Pétion. Convinced that the same fate lay in store for Saint-Domingue, these commanders and others once again battled Leclerc. With the French intent on reconquest and re-enslavement of the colony’s black population, the war became a bloody struggle of atrocity and attrition. The rainy season brought yellow fever and malaria, which took a heavy toll on the invaders. By November, when Leclerc died of yellow fever, 24,000 French soldiers were dead and 8,000 were hospitalized, the majority from disease.
Afterwards, Leclerc was replaced by Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau. Rochambeau wrote to Napoleon that, to reclaim Saint-Domingue, France must ‘declare the negroes slaves, and destroy at least 30,000 negroes and negresses.’ In his desperation, he turned to increasingly wanton acts of brutality; the French burned alive, hanged, drowned, and tortured black prisoners, reviving such practices as burying blacks in piles of insects and boiling them in cauldrons of molasses. One night, at Port-Républican, he held a ball to which he invited the most prominent mulatto ladies and, at midnight, announced the death of their husbands. However, each act of brutality was repaid by the Haitian rebels. After one battle, Rochambeau buried 500 prisoners alive; Dessalines responded by hanging 500 French prisoners. Rochambeau’s brutal tactics helped unite black, mulatto, and mestizo soldiers against the French.
As the tide of the war turned toward the former slaves, Napoleon abandoned his dreams of restoring France’s New World empire. In 1803, war resumed between France and Britain, and with the Royal Navy firmly in control of the seas, reinforcements and supplies for Rochambeau never arrived in sufficient numbers. To concentrate on the war in Europe, Napoleon signed the Louisiana Purchase in April, selling France’s North American possessions to the United States. The Haitian army, now led by Dessalines, devastated Rochembeau and the French army at the Battle of Vertières on 18 November 1803.
On 1 January 1804 Dessalines then declared independence, reclaiming the indigenous Taíno name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”) for the new nation. Most of the remaining French colonists fled ahead of the defeated French army, many migrating to Louisiana or Cuba. Unlike Toussaint, Dessalines showed little equanimity with regard to the whites. In a final act of retribution, the remaining French were slaughtered by Haitian military forces. Some 2,000 Frenchmen were massacred at Cap-Français, 900 in Port-au-Prince, and 400 at Jérémie. He issued a proclamation declaring, “we have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.”
One exception was a military force of Poles from the Polish Legions that had fought in Napoleon’s army. A majority of Polish soldiers refused to fight against the Black inhabitants. At the time, there was a familiar situation going on back in their homeland, as these Polish soldiers were fighting for their liberty from the invading Russia, Prussia and Austria that began in 1772. As hopeful as the Haitians, many Poles were seeking union amongst themselves to win back their homeland. As a result, many Polish soldiers admired their enemy and decided to turn on the French army and join the Haitian slaves, and participated in the Haitian revolution of 1804, supporting the principles of liberty for all the people. Władysław Franciszek Jabłonowski who was half-Black was one of the Polish generals at the time. Polish soldiers had a remarkable input in helping the Haitans in the retaliation fights against the French oppressor. They were spared the fate of other Europeans. For their loyalty and support for overthrowing the French, the Poles acquired Haitian citizenship after Haiti gained its Independence, and many of them settled there to never return to Poland.
It is estimated that around 500 of the 5280 Poles chose this option. Of the remainder, 700 returned to France to eventually return to Poland, and some – after capitulation – were forced to serve in British units. 160 Poles were later given permission to leave Haiti and some particular ones were sent to France at Haitian expense. To this day, many Polish Haitians still live in Haiti and are of mixed racial origin, however some have blonde hair, light eyes, and other European features. Today, descendants of those Poles who stayed are living in Cazale, Fond-des-Blancs, La Vallée-de-Jacmel, La Baleine, Port-Salut and Saint-Jean-du-Sud.
Despite the Haitian victory, France refused to recognize the newly independent country’s sovereignty until 1825, in exchange for 150 million gold francs. This fee, demanded as retribution for the “lost property,”—slaves, land, equipment etc.—of the former colonialists, was later reduced to 90 million. Haiti agreed to pay the price to lift a crippling embargo imposed by France, Britain, and the United States— but to do so, the Haitian government had to take out high interest loans. The debt was not repaid in full until 1947.
SECTION FIVE: INDEPENDENCE-THE EARLY YEARS (1804–43)
PART ONE: BLACK REPUBLIC (1804)
Haiti is the world’s oldest black republic and one of the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries – and secured a promise from the great liberator, Simón Bolívar, that he would free their slaves after winning independence from Spain – the nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere’s first regional meeting of independent nations, held in Panama in 1826. Furthermore, owing to entrenched opposition from Southern slave states, Haiti did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862 (after those states had seceded from the Union) – largely through the efforts of anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.
Upon assuming power, General Dessalines authorized the Constitution of 1804. This constitution, in terms of social freedoms, called for:
PART TWO: FIRST HAITIAN EMPIRE (1804–06)
On 22 September 1804, Dessalines, preferring Napoleon’s style rather than the more liberal yet vulnerable type of political government of the French Republican Radicals, proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I. Yet two of his own advisers, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion, helped provoke his assassination in 1806. The conspirators ambushed him north of Port-au-Prince at Pont Larnage (now known as Pont-Rouge) on 17 October 1806 en route to battle rebels to his regime.
PART THREE: THE STRUGGLE FOR UNITY (1806–20)
After the Dessalines coup d’état, the two main conspirators divided the country in two rival regimes. Christophe created the authoritarian State of Haiti in the north, and the Gens de couleur Pétion helped establish the Republic of Haiti in the south. Christophe attempted to maintain a strict system of labor and agricultural production akin to the former plantations. Although, strictly speaking, he did not establish slavery, he imposed a semi-feudal system, fumage, in which every able man was required to work in plantations (similar to Latifundios) to produce goods for the fledging country.
His method, though undoubtedly oppressive, produced the most revenues of the two governments.
By contrast, Pétion broke up the former colonial estates and parceled out the land into small holdings. In Pétion’s south, the gens de couleur minority led the government and feared losing popular support, and thus, sought to assuage class tensions with land redistribution. Because of the weak international position and its labor policies (most peasants lived through a subsistence economy), Pétion’s government was perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, for most of its time, it produced one of the most liberal and tolerant Haitian governments ever.
In 1815, at a key period of Bolívar’s fight for Venezuelan independence, he gave the Venezuelan leader asylum and provided him soldiers and substantial material support. It also had the least of internal military skirmishes, despite its continuous conflicts with Christophe’s northern kingdom. In 1816, however, after finding the burden of the Senate intolerable, he suspended the legislature and turned his post into President for Life. Not long after, he died of yellow fever, and his assistant Jean-Pierre Boyer replaced him.
In this period, the eastern part of the island rose against the new powers following general Juan Sánchez Ramírez’s claims of independence from France, which broke the Treaties of Bâle attacking Spain and prohibited commerce with Haiti. In the Palo Hincado battle (7 November 1808), all the remaining French forces were defeated by Spanish-creole insurrectionists. On 9 July 1809, Santo Domingo was born. The government put itself under the control of Spain, earning it the nickname of “España Boba” (meaning “The Idiot Spain”).
In 1811, Christophe proclaimed himself King Henri I in the North and commissioned several extraordinary buildings. He even created a nobility class in the fashion of European monarchies. Yet in 1820, weakened by illness and with a decreasing support for his authoritarian regime, he killed himself with a silver bullet rather than face a coup d’état. Immediately after, Pétion’s successor, Boyer, reunited Haiti through diplomatic tactics, and ruled as president until his overthrow in 1843.
Boyer’s domination of Hispaniola (1820–43)
Almost two years after Boyer had consolidated power in the west, in 1821, Santo Domingo declared independence from Spain and requested from Simón Bolívar inclusion in the Gran Colombia. Boyer, however, responding to a party on the east that preferred Haiti over Colombia, occupied the ex-Spanish colony in January 1822, encountering no military resistance. In this way he accomplished the unity of the island, which was only carried out for a short period of time by Toussaint Louverture in 1801. Boyer’s occupation of the Spanish side also responded to internal struggles among Christophe’s generals, to which Boyer gave extensive powers and lands in the east. This occupation, however, pitted the Spanish white elite against the iron fisted Haitian administration, and stimulated the emigration of many white wealthy families. Even today, the various memories and interpretations of this occupation still fuel animosities between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The entire island remained under Haitian rule until 1844, when in the east a nationalist group called La Trinitaria led a revolt that partitioned the island into Haiti on the west and Dominican Republic on the east, based on what would appear to be a riverine territorial ‘divide’ from the pre-contact period.
From 1824 to 1826, while the island was under one government, Boyer promoted the largest single free-Black immigration from the United States in which more than 6,000 immigrants settled in different parts of the island. Today remnants of these immigrants live throughout the island, but the larger number reside in Samaná, a peninsula on the Dominican side of the island. From the government’s perspective, the intention of the immigration was to help establish commercial and diplomatic relationships with the US, and to increase the number of skilled and agricultural workers in Haiti.
In exchange for diplomatic recognition from France, Boyer was forced to pay a huge indemnity for the loss of French property during the revolution. To pay for this, he had to float loans in France, putting Haiti into a state of debt. Boyer attempted to enforce production through the Code Rural, enacted in 1826, but peasant freeholders, mostly former revolutionary soldiers, had no intention of returning to the forced labor they fought to escape. By 1840, Haiti had ceased to export sugar entirely, although large amounts continued to be grown for local consumption as taffia-a raw rum. However, Haiti continued to export coffee, which required little cultivation and grew semi-wild.
The 1842 Cap-Haïtien earthquake destroyed the city, and the Sans-Souci Palace, killing 10,000 people. This was the third major earthquake to hit Western Hispaniola following the 1751 and 1770 Port-au-Prince earthquakes, and the last until the devastating earthquake of 2010.
Political struggles (1843–1911)
Instability and chaos (1843–49)
In 1843, a revolt, led by Charles Rivière-Hérard, overthrew Boyer and established a brief parliamentary rule under the Constitution of 1843. Revolts soon broke out and the country descended into near chaos, with a series of transient presidents until March 1847, when General Faustin Soulouque, a former slave who had fought in the rebellion of 1791, became president.
Second Haitian Empire (1849–59)
In 1849, taking advantage of his popularity, President Faustin Soulouque proclaimed himself Emperor Faustin I. His iron rule succeeded in uniting Haiti for a time, but it came to an abrupt end in 1859 when he was deposed by General Fabre Geffrard, styled the Duke of Tabara.
Building a new republic (1859–1911)
Geffrard’s military government held office until 1867, and he encouraged a successful policy of national reconciliation. In 1860, he reached an agreement with the Vatican, reintroducing official Roman Catholic institutions, including schools, to the nation. In 1867 an attempt was made to establish a constitutional government, but successive presidents Sylvain Salnave and Nissage Saget were overthrown in 1869 and 1874 respectively. A more workable constitution was introduced under Michel Domingue in 1874, leading to a long period of democratic peace and development for Haiti. The debt to France was finally repaid in 1879, and Michel Domingue’s government peacefully transferred power to Lysius Salomon, one of Haiti’s abler leaders. Monetary reform and a cultural renaissance ensued with a flowering of Haitian art.
The last two decades of the 19th century were also marked by the development of a Haitian intellectual culture. Major works of history were published in 1847 and 1865. Haitian intellectuals, led by Louis-Joseph Janvier and Anténor Firmin, engaged in a war of letters against a tide of racism and Social Darwinism that emerged during this period.
The Constitution of 1867 saw peaceful and progressive transitions in government that did much to improve the economy and stability of the Haitian nation and the condition of its people. Constitutional government restored the faith of the Haitian people in legal institutions. The development of industrial sugar and rum industries near Port-au-Prince made Haiti, for a while, a model for economic growth in Latin American countries. This period of relative stability and prosperity ended in 1911, when revolution broke out and the country slid once again into disorder and debt.