Many Americans (and even Americanists) often are unaware (or have totally forgotten) that the little Caribbean land of Haiti had a great effect on early American History--right up till the Civil War (at the very least).
I discussed this historical relationship between the USA and Haiti indirectly with many students of mine in the wake of Wednesday's major earthquake--i.e. the most destructive earthquake in nearly 2 centuries. Only one student even knew that the French had controlled Haiti and that Napoleon Bonaparte had help lose Haiti over two centuries ago.
Randall Robinson, author of "An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President," pointed out on Democracy Now Radio that the American media often ignores the role of foreign regimes in principally keeping Haiti underdeveloped for over two hundred years. Most recently, the George W. Bush administration had a very strong hand in ousting the popularly elected president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in 2004.
Robinson noted that sadly, "President Obama [has] tapp[ed] . . . former President Bill Clinton and former President George W Bush to co-chair US relief efforts in Haiti."
Robinson says, "Bush was responsible for destroying Haitian democracy. Clinton has largely sponsored a program of economic development that supports the idea of sweatshops, but that is not what we should focus on now. We should focus on saving lives.'" Nevertheless, hopefully in the months and years to come, the U.S.A. media and American educators will finally embrace the opportunity to improve our relationship to our Caribbean neighbors by narrating truer histories of the U.S. and its neighbors, such as Haiti.
HAITI 1790s to 1804
Haiti occupies the large Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, along with the neighboring former Spanish colony of the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola was originally visited by Christopher Columbus in the name of Spain in 1492. It was from this island that Cortez planned his takeover of the Aztec Empire. However, French forces grabbed a share of the island of Hispaniola for themselves just over a century later. Finally, by 1789, France found its global imperial plans totally thwarted by its own distracting revolution at home. This is why during the early 1790s, French control of Haiti was threatened first by the economically powerful landowners of Haiti--and subsequently by well-armed revolutionary black and mulatto Jacobites.
By the 1790s, in any case, the majority of Haitian residents were no longer native Indians, nor Spanish, nor French. They were either Africans imported as slaves to run great cotton- and sugar- plantations in Eastern Hispaniola--or they were slave children of mixed marriages, known as mulattos.
Soon, Leger Feliecite Sonthonax, a Jacobite, 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. On August 29, 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. On February 4, 1794 the French National Convention ratified this act, applying it to all French colonies."
This did not endear Sonthonax to white landowners in the southern part of Haiti. Interestingly, initially "[t]he 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."
By 1799, the former slave, Toussaint-Louverture, and other mulatto and black forces had finally united to repel the French, and then a threatened British invasion. Next, there was an attempted invasion by Napolean to retake Haiti by force in the early part of the 19th century. (NOTE: Subsequently, around 1802, Toussaint-Louverture was in fact captured or kidnapped--like the recently expelled President Jean Aristide--through great treachery. He died a year later in French Prison.)
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