The Citizens of June 20

Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.

In the eight months that the Second Commission had been in Saint Domingue, they had faced both unbeatable slave armies and stubborn whites who believed that if they held out just a little bit longer, things would go back to the way they were in the good old days. But by May 1793, the commissioners kind of sort of did have a handle on things. The whites had mostly submitted and they had just unveiled a new, more lenient approach to ending the slave revolt. But then, on May 7, 1793, the new Governor General François-Thomas Galbaud arrived. Within six weeks of stepping off the boat, Galbaud would help bring about the end of white rule in Saint Domingue,  the total destruction of Le Cap and the emancipation of all the slaves. It really is quite an impressive resume.

Now the just flat out weird part about the intersection of the Haitian and French Revolutions is the complete lack of care with which the French revolutionaries chose their colonial governor general. Saint Domingue was their most lucrative colony, a true moneymaking engine at a time when France was desperately short of cash. It was currently being rocked by a slave revolt and a civil war. So you’d think that they’d take some care in selecting the governor general of what was sure to be a mission of vital national importance. But after Blanchelande, they sent 72 year old d’Esparbès, who no one has ever heard of and who no one today understands how he even got the job. And now they’re sending General Galbaud, who… Well, let me tell you all about this.

General François-Thomas Galbaud was a tiny little man, like, maybe 5ft tall. He came from a noble provincial family that had long been absentee, owners of two plantations in Saint Domingue, one in the West Province and one down in the south. Galbaud himself was a career army officer who had lethargically advanced through the ranks of the Ancien Régime military. He had fought in the American War of Independence and had reached the rank of Captain on the eve of the Revolution. But that’s it. Galbaud was a patriotic liberal, though, and in 1790 joined the local Jacobin Club when it opened in Strasbourg, where he was stationed. When the war started in 1792, he wound up attached to General Dumouriez’s staff and had then been present for the great victory at Valmy. But he really got everyone’s attention when he unexpectedly found himself in a face-to-face meeting with the Duke of Brunswick during the final stages of the allied retreat following Valmy. His alleged and very self reported tough talk to the commander in chief of the enemy was written up and publicized in the Paris papers. So in the fall of 1792, Galbaud had generated a little revolutionary notoriety for himself. 

So in November 1792, the National Convention was looking for a new Governor of Martinique, because, remember, from last week, General Rochambeau had apparently moved on to Saint Domingue. So they said, “All right, let’s go with this Galbaud guy. He seems like a patriotic officer.” And he really was. But as Galbaud prepared to take over Martinique, the National Convention found out in March 1793 that Rochambeau had gone and taken up his original post. And so they told Galbaud, “Look, why don’t you just go on to Saint Domingue, since they don’t have a governor general and you’re already packed and everything?” I mean, this is crazy. This is a really important job to just be handing off to people kind of as an afterthought. Now, of course, France is at war at this point, and no one with any juice is going to let themselves get sent to Saint Domingue to be killed by slave rebels or yellow fever. But still, they were acting pretty cavalier about this appointment. And on top of everything else, by the time Galbaud set sail in March, war with Britain and Spain had already been declared, and the defense of Saint Domingue was going to be a thing. Anyway, I will stop belaboring this point. You get the idea. They were pretty nonchalant about all this. 

Now, as I mentioned at the very end of last week’s show, as soon as Galbaud stepped off the boat in Le Cap, he was set upon by prominent big whites begging him to do something about these damned commissioners. Galbaud and his wife, who was with him and who was also pretty stoked to have married a dull career captain, who was now suddenly Governor General of Saint Domingue, enjoyed the attention but Galbaud was an ardent Republican patriot, and one thing he made clear was that, “Look, I’ll look into your various grievances, but I support the Law of April 4, and I plan to enforce it.” But he also told the free colored allies of the Second Commission, “We’re all in this together, fellow citizens. Equality, remember? No one is superior to anyone else.” 

Now, this all sounded good and neutral, and Galbaud emphasized all this when he exchanged letters with Sonthonax and Polverel, who were down in the West Province. But this set off some alarm bells, and they told him, “Don’t do anything until we get there!” All this talk of unity and equality sounded like Galbaud was about to re-empower their white enemies in Le Cap. “So this is a tricky business”, they said. “You don’t know what it’s like here, so just don’t do anything.”

But Galbaud refused to wait around for the Second Commissioners. The residents of the city were complaining about a lack of basic supplies. The merchants in the harbor were complaining that no one was paying them for their goods. The soldiers were complaining that they hadn’t been paid at all. Galbaud set to work trying to orchestrate a complicated little barter swap/an IOU plan to unclog the wheels of commerce. But he couldn’t get everyone on board. And very troubling to the free coloreds was who he did not even invite on board: the free coloreds. Because despite Galbaud’s rhetoric, he was still casually referring to them as mulattos, now an insulting label, and just didn’t invite them to any of his meetings or take their counsel on anything. And his wife refused to entertain any black or colored, quote unquote, “concubine” in her home. So the colored started writing frantic letters to the Second Commissioners saying, “You need to get back here right now.” 

Sonthonax and Polverel arrived back in Le Cap on June 10, and they did not bring with them any pretense of cordiality. They were not at all happy with Galbaud’s spunky initiative, especially since it was clear he was listening mostly to the very white leaders they had just spent the last eight months making enemies of. And the reports of Lady Galbaud’s treatment of colored women might have been particularly off putting. By now, both Sonthonax and Polverel had taken up with colored mistresses. Sonthonax would soon enough be marrying his. At an impromptu welcoming gathering at the edge of town, Galbaud invited the commissioners to dine with him that evening, but Sonthonax bluntly said, “We’re tired, and we’ve already promised to dine with our friends.” And off they went. 

The next day, this calculated slight opened up into a permanent breach. In their first official meeting, Sonthonax and Polverel confronted Galbaud with the reports they had gotten from their friends in the city. They told them, “Look, you can’t trust the whites. They will say anything to undermine the Law of April 4. You can only trust the coloreds.” But they also told him, “It doesn’t really matter. We are here now, and all we really need from you is obedience. So just do what you’re told, and everything will be fine.” 

Now, Galbaud’s orders very clearly said that the Second Commission was the supreme authority in Saint Domingue. And he said, “That’s fine. I’ll follow you every order as long as it’s in accordance with the law.” 

And they said, “No, we are the law. You do what we say. We’ve tried persuasion with these people. We’ve tried appeals to patriotism. The only thing holding this place together is our supreme authority.” 

Galbaud refused to concede this point. Then the commissioners said, “Oh, also by the way, you shouldn’t even be here, thanks to that law that says property holders can’t hold office in Saint Domingue.” 

Galbaud said, “I asked the Ministry if it was okay, and they never got back to me, but if you want to send me home over – fine.” 

And then the commissioners said, “Fine.”

And that was pretty much that. The Second Commissioners put Galbaud on a long boat that rode him back to his ship, where he would await deportation. 

But that brings us to the most pissed off people in all of Le Cap in June 1793: the sailors, both of the merchant and naval variety. In the immediate aftermath of the initial slave uprising, Governor Blanchelande had closed the harbor. But once things settled into a stalemate, those restrictions had loosened. But with a declaration of war with Britain looming in early March, the Second Commissioners had ordered the harbor closed once again, and it had remained closed ever since. No ship had been allowed to leave Saint Domingue in over three months, and the sailors were getting really super restless. On top of that, in April, plans had been laid for a mass convoy to set sail, merchant ships protected by warships that would hopefully be able to repel a British attack. Close to 50 additional ships from across the colony had massed in the Le Cap harbor on May 10 in preparation for the convoy, but the order to launch never came. So there were now over 100 ships in the harbor bobbing along, doing nothing for a solid month. And some of those ships held on board the white leaders who had been imprisoned in the aftermath of the December crisis. And those guys had no trouble stirring up additional resentment against the Second Commission. 

Now, the other issue is that the sailors and the coloreds in Le Cap had come to hate each other. That’s the standard relationship between small whites and free coloreds. When the sailors came ashore, they usually caroused around and got drunk and picked fights with the coloreds, and with both Sonthonax and Polverel down in the west trying to assert control over the rest of the colony, the sailors had been getting away with this for quite a while. Now that the Second Commission was back, however, the coloreds were able to start flexing their muscles a bit, maybe even strutting around a bit. On June 16, a few days after Galbaud had allowed himself to be put on a boat, a bunch of sailors were in Le Cap and apparently there was a lot of harassment and cat calling by the coloreds. Fights had broken out, and when the sailors got back to their ships, they complained to the admiral of the fleet.

On the evening of June 19, the admiral decided to pay a formal visit to the commissioners to lodge a complaint about the way his men had been treated. What he walked into was a little party of about 100 men and women, the commissioners, their free colored allies and white friends. And there were a few, most of them with black or colored wives. They appeared to be celebrating the triumph over Governor Galbaud and the reburying of the whites. The admiral lodged his complaint and then went back to the flagship. But when he got there, he found the men in a very agitated state and not happy that he hadn’t pressed their complaints further. And then somebody had a bright idea. They said, “We have amongst us the governor general of the colony, the supreme head of all the military forces. He has been shabbily treated by these outrageous, half breed loving despots.” So they turned to Galbaud and said, “Man, do we have an idea for you. Instead of going back to France, why don’t we all go arrest the commissioners and send them back to France?” Galbaud was at first reluctant to go along with this, but over the night of June 19, he was persuaded, particularly by his wife and brother, who were both on the ship with him. 

Early the next morning, longboats crisscrossed amongst the ships as word spread of the planned action. Galbaud himself made personal appeals to the sailors, appeals that on every ship, bypassed the officers and were made straight to the men. The common sailors enthusiastically cried, “Long live the Republic!” and “Long live Galbaud!”. And they agreed to fight for him. The officers were either ignored by the stirred up men or got locked in their staterooms, as, for example, was the fate of the senior admiral, who was imprisoned on his flagship. By the afternoon, the citizens of Le Cap witnessed an incredible and incredibly terrifying sight. The gunship slowly turned their broadsides to face the city. Every gun in the fleet was now pointed at Le Cap. Sonthonax and Polverel were alerted and they scrambled to assemble a force of loyal men for whatever might come next. Free colored militiamen were their best option, but initially there was only about 50 of them around. Now they had some regular troops they could count on, in particular, Colonel Lavaux’s 16th Dragoons. But the rest were suspect. If it came down to it, who would they fight for? Then the commissioners hunkered down in the Government House, the largest building in Le Cap that functioned as an all-purpose city hall. At 04:00 p.m. on June 21, 1793, Galbaud led the first wave of sailors from ship to shore. They landed without opposition. They also landed without being welcomed. The vast majority of the population were closing up their windows, locking their doors, and trying to stay out of it, like townspeople preparing for the climactic shootout at the end of a western. Now, it’s unclear how many men Galbaud actually landed with. Reports range from 600 minimum to 2000 maximum, but the lower number seems way more plausible. But from the moment they landed, Galbaud’s lack of a plan and lack of resolve and lack of real leadership skills became apparent. The motley array of undisciplined sailors just marched up towards the Government House as a headless mob, with Galbaud trailing behind. A detachment broke off to go talk their way into the arsenal to get some heavy guns. But when they got there, they discovered colored militiamen were defending it, and the white commanding officer refused to open the door. 

The rest of the sailors, meanwhile, approached the Government House, but along the way, they started getting picked off by unexpected sniper fire from the windows, which they had not expected, nor were they prepared for. And then when they hit the Government House itself, they tried to push their way in and found a well trained company of coloreds had set up a strong defensive line in the garden in front of the building. This company was led by an African born ex slave and now free black, named Jean-Baptiste Belley, whose name I want you to remember. Belley’s men drove the sailors back after a fierce little firefight. But believing, rightly, that they were ultimately outnumbered, the Second Commission and their men fell back out of the Government House into some adjacent barracks behind the building. Galbaud now finally caught up with the men he was, quote unquote, “leading”, divided them up into three columns to go around the Government House and attack the barracks. But the column going around the north side got bogged down by sniper fire, and his own column in the center remained weirdly inert in front of the Government House. So only the column that swung around the south, led by Galbaud’s brother, actually got to the barracks. But the forces of the Second Commission noticed how isolated this column was, launched a quick attack, most of the sailors ran off, and Galbaud’s brother was captured. 

So two hours after landing, Galbaud’s little expedition was in disarray, and he retreated back towards the harbor. With a small force, Galbaud himself wound up back in front of the arsenal. He demanded its surrender, and when they refused, he was just totally flummoxed. One of his men asked what the problem was, and Galbaud said, “I told them to surrender, and they won’t.” So the guy was like, “Well, let’s go take it, sir.” But Galbaud didn’t really have that killer instinct, so he went back to talking, and eventually he convinced the arsenal commander to stand down, in part due to the commander’s fear that if he didn’t, those ships out in the harbor would open up their guns, and the arsenal would be the primary target. But then Galbaud did, in fact, send an order back to the ships to open fire on the city to force the Second Commissioners to give it up. But when this order got back to the ship, all the officers, who were not in on this little adventure, folded their arms and said, “No, we are not doing that at all”. And the sailors left behind, while likely supporters of the adventure, were not the hottest of the hotheads – all those guys were now ashore. So the ships did not fire their guns, nor would they ever. 

As night fell, Le Cap descended into a lawless free for all. With a quick victory no longer in the offing, the sailors under Galbaud’s quote unquote “command” turned to a little good old fashioned looting. Then, with the white authorities trying to kill each other and the civilian masters all cowering in the corner, the thousands and thousands of urban slaves recognized that this might be their day of liberty. They left their homes and joined aimlessly roving bands of black slaves and white sailors looting and pillaging. And whenever these groups ran into each other, they started fighting and killing each other. It was a long, brutal night in Le Cap.

 Adding to the slave’s willingness to walk away from their masters was the rumor going round that the Second Commission, still hold up in the barracks, were issuing some kind of general liberty. And this was true! Kind of. Realizing that they did not have enough men to actually defend their position, they turned to the expedient both the whites and coloreds had turned to while fighting their little civil war in the west and south provinces: arm the slaves. So they said, we’ll give freedom to any slave who comes and fights for us. And after the long night of anarchy ended, a broad sheet to that effect started making the rounds. The official terms were: join our army and agree to stay under arms until all the enemies of the Republic, foreign and domestic, are defeated, and we will make you free citizens. Now, this implied service not just against Galbaud, but also against any possible invasion by the British or Spanish, and also against the insurgent slave armies occupying the Northern Plains. But even with these terms, slaves started signing up, which is how this whole batch of guys become known, somewhat erroneously, as the Citizens of June 20. 

By the morning of the 21st, Galbaud had secured some heavy guns from the arsenal and positioned them against the government house. Sonthonax and Polverel determined the barracks were now indefensible and decided to make a run for it, heading for that same little fortified settlement that the colored militia had captured during the crisis back in December. From there, they took their next momentous step, they sent out envoys to contact the insurgents occupying camps near Le Cap and offer them the same deal: freedom for service. Eventually, two leaders came down to Polverel. The senior one was named Pierrot, but ultimately the more important one was a guy named Macaya. They dickered with the Second Commissioners and then accepted the deal, bringing with them 2000 followers. And now the Second Commission had an army it could really fight back with. 

Hilariously enough, though, by that point, midday on June 21, there was no one actually to fight back against. The imagination of Galbaud, his sailors and the entire white population of Le Cap had run away with them after the Second Commission split. While Sonthonax and Polverel were trying to get slaves to join them, the people in Le Cap thought it was already a done deal and that right now, this second, a slave army is marching to massacre us all. Panic swept everyone away. Galbaud himself, like, ran back to the harbor and plunged into the water, trying to get on a boat to carry him back to the ships. His men, understandably, followed close at his heels. And then the white residents saw the governor general and his men running away and said, “Oh God, we have to get out of here.” Every prominent big white family made a run for it. They gathered what they could carry and then booked it for the shore, desperately trying to get on board a boat that would take them to the ships that would save them from certain death. The harbor was all yelling and crying and pushing and shoving. Meanwhile, the Second Commissioners and their forces were back at their base, getting ready for what they thought was a certain attack. 

Now, as usually happens in these situations, and all the panic and looting which was now widespread and indiscriminate, a fire broke out down the road. Galbaud would blame the Second Commission for deliberately setting it, but that’s obviously not true. The Second Commission would in turn blame Galbaud, but that doesn’t seem likely either. Most likely it was an accident. But whoever caused it, the fire spread rapidly. So now the looting and the panicked fleeing picked up to a crazy speed. Every ship in the harbor was soon loaded with white refugees, including every prominent big white family. The citizens who could not make it onto the ships had fled to the surrounding countryside as Le Cap itself continued to burn. 

So it wasn’t until the following day, June 22, that the slave fighters enrolled by Sonthonax and Polverel actually arrived on the scene in Le Cap. They had marched in thinking they were going to war. What they found instead was a deserted city in flames. There would be no war. So of course, these guys started pillaging what they could before the whole city burned to the ground. Over that night of the 22nd, there was an immense pressure put on the ship captains to get the hell out of there. But there was a problem. They still lacked the formal authority to do so. But after further cajoling and the recognition that the chaos and destruction and danger were so complete that they could justify it, the admiral agreed to sail away the next day. By June 24, the harbor, that had just been overcrowded with 100 ships, was nearly empty. This mass exodus of the big whites represents the end of white colonial rule in Saint Domingue. They had all held out in the hopes of getting back everything, and instead they sailed away with nothing. Now, we’ll follow up with this lot next week, as good old citizen Janae is going to make a cameo appearance. So for now, we’re going to stay behind in Saint Domingue. 

Cap-Français. Good old Le Cap. The Paris of the Antilles was now a fiery ghost town littered with dead bodies. The final summation of the destruction runs that about 85% of the city was consumed by fire. Though I must point out that with so much of the city constructed of stone and brick, this is not like the city is just a flat bed of ashes. The death toll runs from a low of about 1200 estimated by Colonel Lavaux, to the 3000 estimated by the Second Commissioners, and the highs run to 7500 and even 10,000. Those numbers provided by various eyewitnesses who were very hostile to both the slaves and the Second Commissioners. Whatever the final numbers, what had just happened in Le Cap in June 1793 was a cataclysmic disaster. 

Sonthonax and Polverel, meanwhile, now had to try to pick up the pieces. And there was now a whole new balance of power to reckon with: the Citizens of April 4 and the Citizens of June 20, who now actually outnumbered the free coloreds and the forces of the Second Commission. There was no way to hold on to the colony for France unless the commissioners kept the Citizens of June the 20th firmly on their side. This was highlighted especially when they sent Macaya off to make contact with Jean-François and Biassou and offer them the Freedom for Service deal. But on their behalf, Toussaint issued a sharp response that the slave leaders would, quote, “never negotiate with the Second Commission, whose authority they do not recognize. They can add that having fought up to you now alongside their brothers to uphold the right of the king, they will all shed the last drop of their blood to defend the Bourbons, to whom they have promised unswavering loyalty to the death.” End quote. And then Macaya himself went back over to the slave insurgency. 

Now, the reason the slave generals rebuffed the offer of the Second Commission is not that hard to guess. Not only were they offering less than the Spanish had offered, but they were in a far weaker position, because where are we right now? That’s right. It’s the summer of 1793. When the European alliance arrayed against the French Republic was in wait-for-them-to-collapse mode. The Vendée had erupted. The federalist revolt was in full swing. France was surrounded on all sides. It was broke. It was tearing itself apart. The Spanish were feeding all this information to Jean-François and Biassou and saying that the promises of the representatives of the French Republic are meaningless. Their government is not going to last the year. The violent destruction of Le Cap only confirmed the general feeling that the French were losing badly everywhere. 

Now, one thing I’ve not ever seen is a good explanation for why the slave armies didn’t fall on the Second Commissioners right then. But it’s likely that following the lead of their Spanish superiors, that wait-and-let-them-collapse-without-wasting-our-own-lives-and-treasure was the order of the day. In the mountains of Saint Domingue, no less than the Belgian frontier. With the slaves electing to stick with the Spanish. Pierrot, the one leader who had come over to the second commission, started telling them, “Look, you guys are going to have to do a lot better than the original terms of service if you want us to stick around. Like, for example, we have wives and children and we want freedom for them. Now.” 

Given the circumstances, Sonthonax and Polverel had little choice. On July 11, they extended freedom to the wives and children of the men who would join their army. But Pierrot also strongly hinted that in the end, nothing less than general liberty was going to get the job done. If the commissioners wanted to salvage French rule, they had better do it sooner rather than later. 

At the end of July, now a month removed from the Battle of Le Cap, the situation seemed just stable enough to allow Polverel to return to the West Province to ensure that the rest of the colony did not descend into its own chaos. Because just as Le Cap was burning to the ground, André Rigaud had led an armed expedition to go try to capture Jérémie. But the expedition had failed. But the whites wound up being the least of Polverel’s concern, because not only did he have to worry about renewed slave unrest, but also anti complaints from his colored allies about the possibility of total emancipation. Polverel insisted that this was not his objective, nor did the commission have a mandate to do it. But then, up in the North Province, his colleague Sonthonax, well, Sonthonax, just went for it. 

Sonthonax had come to Saint Domingue personally opposed to slavery, but not intending to abolish it. After six months of experience in the colony, he had concluded that defeating the slaves was impossible. And so he and Polverel had issued that decree on May 5, promising slaves better treatment if they laid down their arms then. The Battle of Le Cap had forced him, by pure necessity of war, to free thousands of slaves to fight for him, and then their families. Now unable to coax the slave armies down with the promise of freedom for service, there was only one step left to take. And at that moment, he believed if he did not take it, it would be the end of the French in Saint Domingue. At a public banquet on August 25, he accepted a petition from 600 of the Citizens of June 20 requesting general liberty. And he said, “Let me think about it.” 

On August 29, 1793, Sonthonax issued an eight page general emancipation decree that opened with the words of the Declaration of the Rights of Man: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” But the decree was not without major caveats, because he went on to say, “Do not believe, however, that the liberty you are going to enjoy is a state of sloth and idleness. In France, everyone is free and everyone works.” After ordering the mass dissemination of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in Article One, Article Two then read, “All Negroes and people of mixed blood currently enslaved are declared free and will enjoy all rights pertaining to French citizenship. They will, however, be subject to a regimen described in the following articles […]”, and what followed were over 30 articles describing that regimen. The word and legal category of slave was banished forever, but the exslaves would now be called ‘cultivators’, who must remain attached to their current plantation for at least a year. They would qualify for a kind of elaborate profit sharing mechanism that kept the inequality of the old slave hierarchy in place, with drivers, now recast as ‘foremen’, making more than cultivators and women making two-thirds what the men made. So this was freedom, kind of. 

The dilemma Sonthonax was facing was a dilemma that every leader of Saint Domingue and then every leader of independent Haiti would face: how to maintain a profitable export economy that required forced slave labor, after all the slaves had been freed. Because this might come as a shock, but once they were free, many slaves did not want to go back to work cutting piling and boiling sugar day after day, forever. They wanted actual liberty. This dilemma is going to play a big part of the story once Toussaint Louverture comes to power. And though it was a particularly unfree form of freedom, it was no longer slavery. Slavery was dead in Saint Domingue, and not even Napoleon Bonaparte would be able to reimpose it. For the first time, a major slaveholding power had issued a general emancipation of its slaves. 

When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, also under wartime duress, he was coming up on the 70th anniversary of Sonthonax’s decree. It also came just about six months after the United States finally decided to recognize Haiti, because all the southern leaders who had blocked recognition and fear of giving their own slaves ideas weren’t around to block recognition anymore. But we’ll talk about that at the very end of our series. 

When Polverel found out about his colleague’s unilateral mass emancipation decree, he was furious. Not because he wasn’t sympathetic, but because, for one, he hadn’t been consulted at all about this. And for another, Polverel’s situation in the west was different from the situation in the north. In the north, the mass flight of the whites had left the limited number of free coloreds open to emancipation, because we have to do something. But down in the west, there was still a very strong and very stable colored elite opposed to emancipation. And in the west, the plantations had never been destroyed. The slaves who had fought under Hyacinthe, for example, had returned to work as slaves. So Sonthonax’s decree was really going to mess up a not terrible situation here. I mean, not terrible from the free coloreds’ perspective. But with the genie out of the bottle, Polverel did not believe he could lag too far behind. So he sent an angry letter to Sonthonax that basically said, “What the hell, man?” And then proceeded on his own course of emancipation. His decrees and accompanying caveats were even more elaborate than Sonthonax’s. But the thrust was the same. The slaves would be emancipated, yes, but they would have to stay on their plantations and keep working. Liberty could not just mean liberty to do anything you wanted, because that would be the death of the colony. 

In many ways, the emancipation of the slaves caused as many problems as they solved. It may be prevented more slaves from deserting to the insurgent armies, but it did nothing to bring in the tens of thousands already under arms. As Toussaint said in a statement, quote, “As long as God gives us the force and the means, we will acquire another liberty different from that which you tyrants pretend to impose on us.” And now the coloreds were themselves becoming estranged from the commissioners, who were now giving pride of place to the Citizens of June the 20th rather than the Citizens of April 4. They were now seeing their moment of triumph. The expulsion of all the big whites turned into the undoing of a world that they now hope to rule. And they did not like that Sonthonax were saying things like, citizens must remember that liberty comes before equality.

But despite all of this and the fact that things were going to get a lot worse for Sonthonax and Polverel before they got better, in September, Sonthonax tried to put a happy face on the disastrous summer of 1793 and defend mass emancipation with a bold PR move. He selected three men, one white, one colored, and one black, to sail back to France to tell the National Convention that the revolution had fully and truly come to Saint Domingue, and that it would be a better and stronger Saint Domingue that would emerge. Of course, by the time this commission, cleverly dubbed the Tricolor Commission, finally made it to Paris, Saint Domingue was not stronger and better than ever. It would actually be mostly an occupied country, because next week, the British will be invited by the hold out whites in Jérémie to sail on into the harbor and set up a base. Shortly thereafter, embittered Coloreds will invite the British into Saint-Marc, and pretty soon, the British will occupy most of the ports in the west and south provinces. Meanwhile, up in the north, zero progress will have been made against the Spanish backed slave armies who still held the lion’s share of the province. And then, of course, back in France, the great patron of the Second Commissioners, Brissot and Girondin allies, they’ve already been purged from the National Convention and are about to get executed. So the recall order to Sonthonax and Polverel is on its way. So, yes, things are going to get worse for them before they get better.

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