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 France abolishes slavery in 1794

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shivfan
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PostSubject: France abolishes slavery in 1794   Mon 14 Oct 2013, 11:30

A little-known aspect of history, which shows that St Domingue (later Haiti, and also referred as San Domingo) led the movement that led to the abolition of slavery in 1794....

"For the moment, the blacks did not know where their true interests lay.  And if they did not, it was not their fault, because the French Revolution, being still in the hands of Liberals and 'moderates', was clearly bent on driving the blacks back to the old slavery.  Thus, when the Spaniards in San Domingo offered the blacks an alliance against the French Government, naturally they accepted.  Here were white men offering them guns and ammunition and supplies, recognising them as soldiers, treating them as equals and asking them to shoot other whites.  All trooped over to join the Spanish forces and Jean Francois and Biassou were appointed lieutenants-general of the armies of the King of Spain.  Toussaint went also, but he made his terms with the Spaniards as an independent leader, and not as a subordinate of Biassou.  He had 600 men, well-trained and absolutely devoted to him." CLR James, 'Black Jacobins', p101

"Sonthonax continued to rule with sternness in the North, the whites sullenly accepting the victory of the revolution, the Mulattoes grabbing greedily all the Government posts....When Galbaud reached Le Cap, Sonthonax was at Port-au-Prince visiting Polverel.  The whites of Le Cap, nearly all for the counter-revolution, gave Galbaud, who had property in San Domingo, a tumultous welcome....He landed with a force, the whites of the counter-revolution joined him, and together they drove the Commissioners and their forces out of the city.  Sonthonax, facing defeat and extermination, gave orders that the slaves and prisoners of Le Cap should be armed; at the same time, promising pardon and freedom to the insurgent slaves who surrounded the city, he unloosed the lot at Galbaud and the whites....10,000 blacks swooped down from the hills on to the city....The counter-revolution fled for the harbour leaving all behind them....Ten thousand refugees crowded on to the vessels in the harbour and set out for the United States of America, the great majority of them never to return.  It was the end of white domination in San Domingo." pp102-3

"The royalist officers were deserting Sonthonax for the Spaniards, and now, to complete the difficulties of the Commissioners, the slaves who had not yet revolted, kindled by the revolutionary ferment around them, refused to be slaves any longer....Sonthonax learnt that Jean Francois was about to rally the blacks to his standard by calling them all to liberty.  Hemmed in on all sides and looking for support against the enemy at home and the enemy abroad, Sonthonax declared the abolition of slavery on August 29th, 1793." p104
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PostSubject: Re: France abolishes slavery in 1794   Mon 14 Oct 2013, 11:47

"Toussaint...now had 4,000 men and under him were blacks, Mulattoes and whites, former officers of the ancien regime and former republicans.  But the majority were black, and Dessalines, Christophe and Moise had been slaves.  Toussaint was in undisputed command, already a master of the art of war, and a skilful negotiator....And while Toussaint performed these miracles in the North, the British added to the complications by making an armed bid for San Domingo....The colony would accept the protection of Great Britain until the peace.  Modifications would be introduced into the Executive, but the ancien regime would be re-established, slavery, Mulatto discrimination, and all....Petitions from all parts of the island assured the British that they would be welcomed by all persons possessing property....All propertied San Domingo rushed to welcome the British, the defenders of slavery." pp107-9

"The Convention abolished the feudal laws at last, put an end to the most crying abuses, and won the confidence of the people....In these few months of their nearest approach to power they did not forget the blacks.  They felt towards them as brothers, and the old slave-owners, whom they knew to be supporters of the counter-revolution, they hated as if Frenchmen themselves had suffered under the whip....'Servants, peasants, workers, the labourers by the day in the fields' all over France were filled with a virulent hatred against the 'aristocracy of the skin'.  There were many so moved by the sufferings of the slaves that they had long ceased to drink coffee, thinking of it as drenched with the blood and sweat of men turned into brutes....This was the France to which, in January 1794, three deputies sent by San Domingo to the Convention arrived, Bellay, a Negro slave who had purchased his freedom, Mills, a Mulatto, and Dufay, a white man."  pp112-3
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PostSubject: Re: France abolishes slavery in 1794   Mon 14 Oct 2013, 12:05

"Next day, Bellay, the Negro, delivered a long and fiery oration, pledging the blacks to the cause of the revolution and asking the Convention to declare slavery abolished.  It was fitting that a Negro and an ex-slave should make the speech which introduced one of the most important legislative acts ever passed by any political assembly.  No one spoke after Bellay.  Instead Levasseur (of Sarthe) moved a motion: 'When drawing up the constitution of the French people we paid no attention to the unhappy Negroes.  Posterity will bear us a great reproach for that.  Let us repair the wrong - let us proclaim the liberty of the Negroes.  Mr President, do not suffer the Convention to dishonour itself by a discussion.' The Assembly rose in acclamation.  The two deputies of colour appeared on the tribune and embraced while the applause rolled round the hall from members and visitors." p114

"Lacroix, who had spoken the day before, then proposed the draft of the decree.  'I demand that the Minister of Marine be instructed to despatch at once advices to the Colonies to give them the happy news of their freedom, and I propose the following decree: The National Convention declared slavery abolished in all the colonies.  In consequence it declares that all men, without distinction to colour, domiciled in the colonies, are French citizens, and enjoy the rights assured under the Constitution.'" p114

"Toussaint got the news of the decree sometime in May.  The fate of the French in San Domingo was hanging by a thread, but now that the decree of Sonthonax was ratified in France, he did not hesitate a moment but at once told Laveaux that he was willing to join them....He persuaded those of his followers who were with him to change over, and all agreed - French soldiers, ex-slaves of the rank-and-file and all his officers, blacks and white royalists who had deserted the Republic to join him....Then in a campaign as brilliant as the one by which he had captured a line of camps for the Spaniards, he recaptured them for the French...the North Province was almost recaptured, and the Spaniards, Biassou and Jean Francois were not only routed by demoralised.  The British, having just received some overdue reinforcements, were already calculating how much of the conquered San Domingo they could wrangle from their allies, the Spaniards....(Toussaint) captured all their positions on the right bank of the Artibonite, drove them across the river." pp116-7

The British attempts to re-instate slavery failed, and they soon came to terms with Toussaint, and evacuated St Domingue.  The thousands of black slave soldiers who were fighting on behalf of the British were freed, and they immediately joined Toussaint's army.  The British could not risk taking them back to Jamaica, after they had been inspired by Toussaint's victories over the British....
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