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Toussaint L'ouverture And The Haytian Revolutions


[Note 2: Extracts from a lecture delivered at the Stuyvesant
Institute, New York, for the benefit of the Colored Orphan Asylum,
February 26, 1841.]

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Whilst the orgies of the French revolution thrust forward a being whose
path was by rivers of blood, the horrors of Santo Domingo produced one
who was pre-eminently a peacemaker--TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE.

In estimating the character of Toussaint L'Ouverture, regard must be
paid, not to the enlightened age in which he lived, but to the rank in
society from which he sprang--a rank which must be classed with a remote
and elementary age of mankind.

Born forty-seven years before the commencement of the revolt, he had
reached the prime of manhood, a slave, with a soul uncontaminated by the
degradation which surrounded him. Living in a state of society where
worse than polygamy was actually urged, we find him at this period
faithful to one wife--the wife of his youth--and the father of an
interesting family. Linked with such tender ties, and enlightened with
some degree of education, which his indulgent master, M. Bayou, had
given him, he fulfilled, up to the moment of the revolt, the duties of
a Christian man in slavery.

At the time of the insurrection--in which he took no part--he continued
in the peaceable discharge of his duties as coachman; and when the
insurgents approached the estate whereon he lived, he accomplished the
flight of M. Bayou, whose kind treatment (part of this kindness was
teaching this slave to read and write) he repaid by forwarding to him
produce for his maintenance while in exile in these United States.

Having thus faithfully acquitted himself as a slave, he turned towards
the higher destinies which awaited him as a freeman. With a mind stored
with patient reflection upon the biographies of men, the most eminent in
civil and military affairs; and deeply versed in the history of the most
remarkable revolutions that had yet occurred amongst mankind, he entered
the army of the insurgents under Jean Francois. This chief rapidly
promoted him to the offices of physician to the forces, aid-de-camp, and
colonel. Jean Francois, in alliance with the Spaniards, maintained war
at this time for the cause of royalty.

Whilst serving under this chief, Toussaint beheld another civil war
agitating the French colony. On one side, the French Commissioners, who
had acknowledged the emancipation of the slaves, maintained war for the
Republic; on the other side, the old noblesse, or planters, fought under
the royal banner, having called in the aid of the British forces in
order to re-establish slavery and the ancient regime.

In this conflict, unmindful of their solemn oaths against the decree of
the 15th of May, 1791, the whites of both parties, including the
planters, hesitated not to fight in the same ranks, shoulder to
shoulder, with the blacks. Caste was forgotten in the struggle for

At this juncture Jean Francois, accompanied by his principal officers,
and possessed of all the honors and emoluments of a captain-general in
the service of his Catholic Majesty, retired to Spain, leaving Toussaint
at liberty to choose his party. Almost immediately joining that standard
which acknowledged and battled for equal rights to all men, he soon
rendered signal service to the Commissioners, by driving the Spaniards
from the northern, and by holding the British at bay in the eastern part
of the island. For these services he was raised to the rank of general
by the French commander at Porte-aux-Paix, General Laveaux, a promotion
which he soon repaid by saving that veteran's life under the following
circumstances: Villate, a mulatto general, envious of the honors
bestowed on Toussaint, treacherously imprisoned General Laveaux in Cape
Francois. Immediately upon hearing this fact, Toussaint hastened to the
Cape at the head of 10,000 men and liberated his benefactor. And, at the
very moment of his liberation, a commission arrived from France
appointing General Laveaux Governor of the Colony; his first official
act was to proclaim Toussaint his lieutenant. "This is the black," said
Laveaux, "predicted by Raynal, and who is destined to avenge the
outrages committed against his whole race." A remark soon verified, for
on his attainment of the supreme power, Toussaint avenged those
injuries--by forgiveness!

As an acknowledgment for his eminent services against the British, and
against the mulattoes, who, inflamed with all the bitterness of caste,
had maintained a sanguinary war under their great leader Rigaud, in the
southern part of the colony, the Commissioners invested Toussaint with
the office and dignity of general-in-chief of Santo Domingo.

From that moment began the full development of the vast and versatile
genius of this extraordinary man. Standing amid the terrible, because
hostile, fragments of two revolutions, harassed by the rapacious greed
of commissioners upon commissioners, who, successively dispatched from
France, hid beneath a republican exterior a longing after the spoils;
with an army in the field accustomed by five years' experience to all
the license of civil war, Toussaint, with a giant hand, seized the reins
of government, reduced these conflicting elements to harmony and order,
and raised the colony to nearly its former prosperity, his lofty
intellect always delighting to effect its object rather by the tangled
mazes of diplomacy than by the strong arm of physical force, yet
maintaining a steadfast and unimpeached adherence to truth, his word,
and his honor.

General Maitland, commander of the British forces, finding the reduction
of the island to be utterly hopeless, signed a treaty with Toussaint for
the evacuation of all the posts which he held. "Toussaint then paid him
a visit, and was received with military honors. After partaking of a
grand entertainment, he was presented by General Maitland, in the name
of His Majesty, with a splendid service of plate, and put in possession
of the government-house which had been built and furnished by the

* * * * *

Buonaparte, on becoming First Consul, sent out the confirmation of
Toussaint as commander-in-chief, who, with views infinitely beyond the
short-sighted and selfish vision of the Commissioners, proclaimed a
general amnesty to the planters who had fled during the revolutions,
earnestly invited their return to the possession of their estates, and,
with a delicate regard to their feelings, decreed that the epithet
"emigrant" should not be applied to them. Many of the planters accepted
the invitation, and returned to the peaceful possession of their

In regard to the army of Toussaint, General Lacroix, one of the planters
who returned, affirms "that never was a European army subjected to a
more rigid discipline than that which was observed by the troops of
Toussaint." Yet this army was converted by the commander-in-chief into
industrious laborers, by the simple expedient of paying them for their
labor. "When he restored many of the planters to their estates, there
was no restoration of their former property in human beings. No human
being was to be bought or sold. Severe tasks, flagellations, and scanty
food were no longer to be endured. The planters were obliged to employ
their laborers on the footing of hired servants." "And under this
system," says Lacroix, "the colony advanced, as if by enchantment
towards its ancient splendor; cultivation was extended with such
rapidity that every day made its progress more perceptible. All
appeared to be happy, and regarded Toussaint as their guardian angel. In
making a tour of the island, he was hailed by the blacks with universal
joy, nor was he less a favorite of the whites."

Toussaint, having effected a bloodless conquest of the Spanish
territory, had now become commander of the entire island. Performing all
the executive duties, he made laws to suit the exigency of the times.
His Egeria was temperance accompanied with a constant activity of body
and mind.

The best proof of the entire success of his government is contained in
the comparative views of the exports of the island, before the
revolutions, and during the administration of Toussaint. Bear in mind
that, "before the revolution there were 450,000 slave laborers working
with a capital in the shape of buildings, mills, fixtures, and
implements, which had been accumulating during a century. Under
Toussaint there were 290,000 free laborers, many of them just from the
army or the mountains, working on plantations that had undergone the
devastation of insurrection and a seven years' war."

* * * * *

In consequence of the almost entire cessation of official communication
with France, and for other reasons equally good, Toussaint thought it
necessary for the public welfare to frame a new constitution for the
government of the island. With the aid of M. Pascal, Abbe Moliere, and
Marinit, he drew up a constitution, and submitted the same to a General
Assembly convened from every district, and by that assembly the
constitution was adopted. It was subsequently promulgated in the name
of the people. And, on the 1st of July, 1801, the island was declared to
be an independent State, in which all men, without regard to
complexion or creed, possessed equal rights.

This proceeding was subsequently sanctioned by Napoleon Buonaparte,
whilst First Consul. In a letter to Toussaint, he says, "We have
conceived for you esteem, and we wish to recognize and proclaim the
great services you have rendered the French people. If their colors fly
on Santo Domingo, it is to you and your brave blacks that we owe it.
Called by your talents and the force of circumstances to the chief
command, you have terminated the civil war, put a stop to the
persecutions of some ferocious men, and restored to honor the religion
and the worship of God, from whom all things come. The situation in
which you were placed, surrounded on all sides by enemies, and without
the mother country being able to succor or sustain you, has rendered
legitimate the articles of that constitution."

Although Toussaint enforced the duties of religion, he entirely severed
the connection between Church and State. He rigidly enforced all the
duties of morality, and would not suffer in his presence even the
approach to indecency of dress or manner. "Modesty," said he, "is the
defense of woman."

The chief, nay the idol of an army of 100,000 well-trained and
acclimated troops ready to march or sail where he wist, Toussaint
refrained from raising the standard of liberty in any one of the
neighboring island, at a time when, had he been fired with what men
term ambition, he could easily have revolutionized the entire
archipelago of the west. But his thoughts were bent on conquest of
another kind; he was determined to overthrow an error which designing
and interested men had craftily instilled into the civilized world,--a
belief in the natural inferiority of the Negro race. It was the glory
and the warrantable boast of Toussaint that he had been the instrument
of demonstrating that, even with the worst odds against them, this race
is entirely capable of achieving liberty and of self-government. He did
more: by abolishing caste he proved the artificial nature of such
distinctions, and further demonstrated that even slavery cannot unfit
men for the full exercise of all the functions which belong to free

"Some situations of trust were filled by free Negroes and mulattoes, who
had been in respectable circumstances under the old Government; but
others were occupied by Negroes, and even by Africans, who had recently
emerged from the lowest condition of slavery."

But the bright and happy state of things which the genius of Toussaint
had almost created out of elements the most discordant was doomed to be
of short duration. For the dark spirit of Napoleon, glutted, but not
satiated with the glory banquet afforded at the expense of Europe and
Africa, seized upon this, the most beautiful and happy of the
Hesperides, as the next victim of its remorseless rapacity.

With the double intention of getting rid of the republican army, and
reducing back to slavery the island of Hayti, he sent out his
brother-in-law, General Leclerc, with 26 ships of war and 25,000 men.

Like Leonidas at Thermopylae, or the Bruce at Bannockburn, Toussaint
determined to defend from thraldom his sea-girt isle, made sacred to
liberty by the baptism of blood.

On the 28th of January, 1802, Leclerc arrived off the bay of Samana,
from the promontory of which Toussaint, in anxious alarm, beheld for the
first time in his life so large an armament. "We must all perish," said
he, "all France has come to Santo Domingo!" But this despondency passed
away in a moment, and then this man, who had been a kindly-treated
slave, prepared to oppose to the last that system which he now
considered worse than death.

It is impossible, after so long a tax on your patience, to enter on a
detailed narration of the conflict which ensued. The hour of trial
served only to develop and ennoble the character of Toussaint, who rose,
with misfortune, above the allurements of rank and wealth which were
offered as the price of his submission; and the very ties of parental
love he yielded to the loftier sentiment of patriotism.

On the 2d of February, a division of Leclerc's army, commanded by
General Rochambeau, an old planter, landed at Fort Dauphin, and
ruthlessly murdered many of the inhabitants (freedmen) who, unarmed, had
been led by curiosity to the beach, in order to witness the
disembarkation of the troops.

Christophe, one of the generals of Toussaint, commanding at Cape
Francois, having resisted the menaces and the flattery of Leclerc,
reduced that ill-fated town to ashes, and retired with his troops into
the mountains, carrying with him 2,000 of the white inhabitants of the
Cape, who were protected from injury during the fierce war which ensued.

Having full possession of the plain of the Cape, Leclerc, with a
proclamation of liberty in his hand, in March following re-established
slavery with all its former cruelties.

This treacherous movement thickened the ranks of Toussaint, who
thenceforward so vigorously pressed his opponent, that as a last resort,
Leclerc broke the shackles of the slave, and proclaimed "Liberty and
equality to all the inhabitants of Santo Domingo."

This proclamation terminated the conflict for the time. Christophe and
Dessalines, general officers, and at length Toussaint himself,
capitulated, and, giving up the command of the island to Leclerc, he
retired, at the suggestion of that officer, to enjoy rest and the sweet
endearments of his family circle, on one of his estates near Gonaives.
At this place he had remained about one month, when, without any
adequate cause, Leclerc caused him to be seized, and to be placed on
board of a ship of war, in which he was conveyed to France, where,
without trial or condemnation, he was imprisoned in a loathsome and
unhealthy dungeon. Unaccustomed to the chill and damp of this
prison-house, the aged frame of Toussaint gave way, and he died.

In this meagre outline of his life I have presented simply facts,
gleaned, for the most part, from the unwilling testimony of his foes,
and therefore resting on good authority. The highest encomium on his
character is contained in the fact that Napoleon believed that by
capturing him he would be able to re-enslave Hayti; and even this
encomium is, if possible, rendered higher by the circumstances which
afterward transpired, which showed that his principles were so
thoroughly disseminated among his brethren, that, without the presence
of Toussaint, they achieved that liberty which he had taught them so
rightly to estimate.

The capture of Toussaint spread like wild-fire through the island, and
his principal officers again took the field. A fierce and sanguinary war
ensued, in which the French gratuitously inflicted the most awful
cruelties on their prisoners, many of whom having been hunted with
bloodhounds, were carried in ships to some distance from the shore,
murdered in cold blood, and cast into the sea; their corpses were thrown
by the waves back upon the beach, and filled the air with pestilence, by
which the French troops perished in large numbers. Leclerc having
perished by pestilence, his successor, Rochambeau, when the conquest of
the island was beyond possibility, became the cruel perpetrator of these
bloody deeds.

Thus it will be perceived that treachery and massacre were begun on the
side of the French. I place emphasis on these facts in order to endeavor
to disabuse the public mind of an attempt to attribute to emancipation
the acts of retaliation resorted to by the Haytians in imitation of
what the enlightened French had taught them. In two daily papers of this
city there were published, a year since, a series of articles entitled
the "Massacres of Santo Domingo."

The "massacres" are not attributable to emancipation, for we have proved
otherwise in regard to the first of them. The other occurred in 1804,
twelve years after the slaves had disenthralled themselves. Fearful as
the latter may have been, it did not equal the atrocities previously
committed on the Haytians by the French. And the massacre was restricted
to the white French inhabitants, whom Dessalines, the Robespierre of the
island, suspected of an attempt to bring back slavery, with the aid of a
French force yet hovering in the neighborhood.

And if we search for the cause of this massacre, we may trace it to the
following source: Nations which are pleased to term themselves civilized
have one sort of faith which they hold to one another, and another sort
which they entertain towards people less advanced in refinement. The
faith which they entertain towards the latter is, very often, treachery,
in the vocabulary of the civilized. It was treachery towards Toussaint
that caused the massacre of Santo Domingo; it was treachery towards
Osceola that brought bloodhounds into Florida!

General Rochambeau, with the remnant of the French army, having been
reduced to the dread necessity of striving "to appease the calls of
hunger by feeding on horses, mules, and the very dogs that had been
employed in hunting down and devouring the Negroes," evacuated the
island in the autumn of 1803, and Hayti thenceforward became an
independent State.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have now laid before you a concise view of the
revolutions of Hayti in the relation of cause and effect; and I trust
you will now think, that, so far from being scenes of indiscriminate
massacre from which we should turn our eyes in horror, these revolutions
constitute an epoch worthy of the anxious study of every American

Among the many lessons that may be drawn from this portion of history is
one not unconnected with the present occasion. From causes to which I
need not give a name, there is gradually creeping into our otherwise
prosperous state the incongruous and undermining influence of caste.
One of the local manifestations of this unrepublican sentiment is, that
while 800 children, chiefly of foreign parents, are educated and taught
trades at the expense of all the citizens, colored children are excluded
from these privileges.

With the view to obviate the evils of such an unreasonable proscription,
a few ladies of this city, by their untiring exertions, have organized
an "Asylum for Colored Orphans." Their zeal in this cause is infinitely
beyond all praise of mine, for their deeds of mercy are smiled on by Him
who has declared, that "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these
little ones a cup of cold water, shall in no wise lose her reward." Were
any further argument needed to urge them on in their blessed work, I
would point out to them the revolutions of Hayti, where, in the midst of
the orgies and incantations of civil war, there appeared, as a spirit of
peace, the patriot, the father, the benefactor of mankind--Toussaint
L'Ouverture, a freedman, who had been taught to read while in slavery!

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