Friday, November 21, 2014

How Should We Remember Toussaint Louverture?

Despite being the enslaver and murderer of thousands of innocent people, Napolean Bonaparte was inarguably one of the most unsurpassed leaders in history, and his leadership was almost identical to that of Toussaint Louverture. They both excelled at fighting for their people, leading armies, and ruling their own provinces. Toussaint Louverture was born as a slave in the 1740s. He was eventually granted freedom by his owner, and proceeded to rent a small coffee farm and eventually possessed a number of his own slaves. When the word of the French Revolution began to spread in Saint Domingue, Louverture was moved by the notions of "Liberte" and "Egalite" (meaning "liberty" and "equality") and emerged as a leader of the ideas of anti-slavery. By 1793, Louverture was the leader of an army of 4,000 rebelling slaves against the French military forces present on the island. When slavery was abolished by the French revolutionary government, Louverture immediately pledged allegiance to France and was given the position of commander of the army in Saint Domingue. An unforeseen turn of events then occurred. Napoleon had risen to power in France, and the rumor was that he planned to reinstate slavery once again in Saint Domingue. When France eventually launched an assault of 21,000 French soldiers, Toussaint was defeated and taken to France to die in prison. At this point, Napoleon removed his army from the island, accepting defeat. As Toussaint Louverture was dying of pneumonia in prison, Saint Domingue was celebrating victory and the abolition of slavery. Although throughout his life Louverture was an extremely effective military commander and ruler of Saint Domingue, his role as a liberator of slaves overpowers these two other roles in a multitude of ways.
Louverture's role as a liberator of slaves was his most prominent and important quality. This is evident through his undying loyalty to his campaign of liberating slaves. In 1794, Toussaint abruptly stopped his revolt against any French troops in Saint Domingue because  “The revolutionary government in France … abolishes slavery in France and all its colonies” (Doc. A).  Louverture clearly demonstrated his loyalty to the abolition of slavery through his active and consistent ways of taking sides. He simply chose to be on whichever side that was going against slavery. Louverture also  displayed his prominence as a liberator of slaves through a letter to the French Directory in 1797. Within the letter, Louverture asks the question “Could men who have once enjoyed the benefits of liberty look on calmly while it is taken from them!” (Doc. B). After having become accustomed to the abolition of slavery for three years, the French are ready to reinstall it in France and her colonies, including Saint Domingue because of Napoleon’s sudden takeover. This action goes against everything Toussaint Louverture has fought for in his time as a military commander, and he is prepared to switch sides at once for the abolition of slavery. He states that “We have known how to confront danger to our own liberty, and we will know how to confront death to preserve it.” (Doc. B), clearly showing his readiness to fight and essentially do anything to preserve the liberty of his people. Toussaint Louverture’s legacy as a liberator of slaves is finally displayed through the Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801. By the time that Toussaint finally had political control of Saint Domingue, he made it his first priority to completely abolish slavery on the island. Article three of the constitution states that “There cannot exist slaves in this territory, servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and french.” (Doc. C) This article outrightly describes Toussaint Louverture’s role as a liberator of slaves through the laws that he imposes upon Saint Domingue, and while his roles as a ruler of Saint Domingue and military leader were very important, Louverture should be most prominently remembered as a liberator of slaves.
Louverture's role as a military commander was very important in the eventual liberty he brought to the slaves on Saint Domingue. This is evident through his ability to make extremely burdensome military decisions for the ultimate benefit of the slaves described in Smartt Bell’s Toussaint Louverture: A Biography. “Toussaint ordered Moyse’s arrest and had him confined in the fort of Port de Paix …. Brought before a firing squad, Moyse himself gave the order to fire.” (Doc. E) Hyacinthe Moyse, being Toussaint Louverture’s nephew, must have been very morally difficult to execute for Louverture, thus proving his ability to make difficult decisions. Toussaint Louverture’s military genius was also present through his defending his people against those who sought to enslave them. “”[T]he fleet landed in Samana, where Toussaint, with an experienced wing of the army, was ready to meet them. On seeing the ships enter the harbor, the heroic chief said, ‘Here come the enslavers of our race. All France is coming to St. Domingo, to try again to put the fetters upon our limbs; but not France, with all her troops of the Rhine, the Alps, the Nile, the Tiber, nor all europe to help her, can extinguish the soul of Africa. That soul, when once the soul of a man, and no longer that of a slave, can overthrow the pyramids and the Alps themselves, sooner than again be crushed down into slavery’” (Doc. F) In fighting for the freedom of slaves, Toussaint Louverture is using the army to aid in his conquest of liberating slaves.
Louverture's power over Saint Domingue played a very important role in the liberation of slaves. He used his political power as a resource in the freeing of many slaves. After Toussaint successfully liberated the slaves in Saint Domingue, he used his power as the ruler of Saint Domingue to employ former slaves. This shows that Toussaint is not only interested in liberating slaves, but wants to help them to find a place in society. Article 15 of The Saint Domingue Constitution states that “Each plantation … shall represent the quiet haven of an active and constant family, of which the owner of the land … shall be the father.” (Doc. C) This implies an unprecedented way of operating plantations on Saint Domingue, in which plantation owners were thinking in the best interest of their former slaves, showing Louverture’s true interests for former slaves. However, when many former slaves intended to break the laws set down by the Constitution, Louverture felt the need to impose these laws much more strictly. While Toussaint did think in the best interest of the slaves and former slaves, his sympathy for them did not extend as far as to let them freely break laws. He states in a Proclamation that “Any individual … tending to incite sedition [actions against the authority of the nation] shall be brought before a court martial [military court] and be punished in conformity with the law.” (Doc. D) This shows that Toussaint’s role as the leader of saint Domingue helped him greatly in the liberation of many slaves.
Although Louverture was an extremely effective military commander and ruler of Saint Domingue, his role as a liberator of slaves has overpowered these other qualities profoundly. His role as a military leader helped him achieve his goal freeing the slaves of Saint Domingue, and likewise for his role as the ruler of Saint Domingue.

Document A: Created from various sources.
Document B: Toussaint Louverture, “Letter to the French Directory, November 1797.”
Document C: The Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801. Signed by Toussaint Louverture in July 1801.   
Document D: Toussaint Louverture, “Proclamation, 25 November 1801.”
Document E: Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint Louverture: A Biography, 2007.

Document F: William Wells Brown, “A Description of Toussaint Louverture,” from The Black Man, Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, 2nd edition, 1863. Engraving of Toussaint Louverture, 1802.

No comments:

Post a Comment