Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.
As the summer of 1800 drew to a close, Toussaint Louverture was at the pinnacle of his career. The dream he had been working towards since at least 1793 and very possibly since 1791, had finally come to pass. He had outmaneuvered all his native rivals, expelled any uppity French commissioners, and outlasted every foreign enemy. He was now the master of Saint Domingue, and soon enough, he would be the master of all of Hispaniola. With this unrivaled power, he began to forge what has become known to history as the Louverturian State, which was the full embrace of that third option for the future of Saint Domingue that we talked about back in Episode 4.9: the three races coexisting in an export based plantation economy, and that coexistence would now be enforced by Toussaint’s huge standing army.
But the problem for Toussaint was that by any objective measure, this option was a crappy one for the black cultivators who form the mass of the population. Yes, they now earn some money for their work, and they weren’t literally being worked to death. But in the main, their daily lives were no different than they had been before the revolution. The changes that had been brought about were often frustratingly superficial. Like, for example, use of the whip, that most hated symbol of slavery, was now banned, and foreman used clubs instead. So at his moment of triumph, Toussaint Louverture began to lose the support of the black population.
Cultivator dissatisfaction with Toussaint quickly deepened when he promulgated a new set of labor rules in October 1800 that promised the workers little in the way of actual freedom. In fact, what he was essentially doing is drafting them all as the civilian workforce to his highly militarized Louverturian state. Toussaint denounced those who refused to work while hiding behind what he called the pretext of freedom. He said of the cultivators, “They change their place of labor as they please, go to and fro, and pay not the least attention to agriculture, though the only means of furnishing subsistence to the military, their protectors.” And so he decreed that whereas a soldier cannot leave his company, his battalion or half brigade, and enter into another without the severest punishment unless provided with a permission, field negroes are forbidden to quit their prospective plantations without lawful permission. And you can imagine how often that permission was going to be granted…
The first article of the Labor Code then said further: “All overseers, drivers and field negroes are bound to observe with exactness, submission and obedience their duty in the same manner as soldiers.” As we’ve seen, for Toussaint, emancipation had never meant the freedom to just do whatever you wanted and he was now explicitly bringing military style discipline to the plantations. After ticking off a few more rules, the Code concluded by saying, “All those who shall be found in contravention here, too, shall be instantly arrested. Liberty cannot exist without industry.” And this is all moving into pretty Orwellian territory. Not that freedom is slavery, but that slavery is freedom.
Now, this is just one of many Labor Codes we’ve seen promulgated since the Emancipation Decree of August 1793. And as I’ve mentioned a few times, the gap between what these codes required and what the cultivators were actually willing to do could in fact be quite wide. On many plantations throughout Saint Domingue, the labor laws had always been knotted at. But if the bulk of your workforce said, “We’re actually going to go do our own thing today. There is very little you could actually do about it.” But now that the British were gone and the War of Knives had been concluded, Toussaint now had a mechanism of enforcement and that was the army, which, as you were about to see, is fast becoming the central focus of his regime. The army would be both the ends and the means of the Louverturian state.
Now, making the military the central focus was not unreasonable. Political, legal and administrative institutions in Saint Domingue had never been particularly robust. Remember, before the revolution, the whole of the royal government was maybe 500 guys, and the years of war, revolt and destruction hadn’t exactly been fertile soil to grow a stable civilian administrative apparatus. But what had grown up was a stable military apparatus and since that apparatus was under Toussaint direct control he decided to transfer its principal duty from defeating the British, who were now gone, to helping him govern Saint Domingue.
So while he did demobilize some of his forces after the War of Knives, Toussaint maintained a robust standing army that simultaneously served multiple purposes. First, there was always the possibility that some foreign threat might suddenly loom on the horizon. I mean, who knows? Maybe the French will make a play to retake the island. Second, cultivator revolts had flared up repeatedly over the years and so keeping the army intact in short order would be quickly restored. And then third, it could serve as the administrative apparatus of his state. The officers acting as supervisors, the men acting as enforcers.
Toussaint divided the colony into administrative zones that were coexistive with military jurisdictions and then doled out civilian job titles to his senior officers. So, for example, his adopted nephew Moyse was both the commander in chief of the military forces of the North Province and its agricultural inspector which meant enforcing the Labor Codes. Now, as we’ll see at the end of today’s episode, Moyse was not nearly as interested in being Toussaint’s strong arm as, say Dessalines who was given a similar set of titles in the south. But regular soldiers generally took a perverse pleasure in keeping the cultivators in line. Life as a common soldier may have been slightly better than life as a cultivator but not by much. And Toussaint clearly fostered a culture that let the soldiers take their frustrations out on the cultivators who they despised as too weak to be anything but cultivators. Senior officers, meanwhile, were granted a cut of the profits from plantations under their jurisdiction to motivate enforcement of the Labor Codes.
And so the split between the civilians and soldiers grew wider as each came to hate the other. While he was entrenching this new military regime, Toussaint also moved to make sure it covered all of Hispaniola. He had induced Commissioner Roume to sign off on the annexation of Spanish Santo Domingo back in May but had prudently waited for the conclusion of the War of Knives to proceed. In December 1800 though, Toussaint organized an expedition and put it under the command of Moyse. Moyse then marched east at the head of either 10,000 or 20,000 men (I’ve seen both numbers reported) and he took Santo Domingo after only token resistance by the small Spanish garrison still on the island. I’ve actually read a lot of conflicting information about the process of this annexation, that Moyse’s army was greeted as liberators and that they were despised as foreign invaders. I’ve seen it reported both that the 25,000 or so slaves in Spanish territory were immediately freed and also that this never actually happened. But given that the coming Constitution of 1801 would apply to the whole island and would be unequivocal about emancipation, I do have a hard time believing that the Spanish slaves were not freed, though how different they found their actual condition, given the Orwellian nature of Louverturian freedom, is a different matter entirely.
Now whichever set of facts happens to be true, I am confident about two things. First, Toussaint did, in fact, annex Santo Domingo in January 1801. And second, when First Consul Bonaparte found out what Toussaint had done, he was furious. Now, last we checked in with Bonaparte it was early 1800 and he had just been convinced by Toussaint white advocate, Colonel Vincent that Toussaint should keep his position as commander in chief of the French army in Saint Domingue. But thanks to the pressing realities of war and politics in Europe, Bonaparte had not been able to pay much more attention to colonial affairs. In early 1800, France was still at war with Britain and back at war with Austria. So when Bonaparte signed the confirmation of Toussaint’s command, the First Consul himself was mostly focused on the crucial campaign he was about to wage against the Austrians. But that was then, it is now, one year later, Bonaparte has whipped the Austrians and in February 1801 the two sides completed the Treaty of Luneville, which once again brought the land war in Europe to a close. And this was not at all coincidentally, the moment that London sent peace feelers to Paris. War weariness had finally settled in everywhere and the government of Britain started laying the groundwork for peaceful coexistence with Bonaparte’s France. Freed of the war with Austria and with the British now looking to lay down their arms too, the First Consul could turn his attention once and for all to colonial matters.
The development of Bonaparte’s colonial policy is hard to trace in a straight line and he went back and forth in his head about how he wanted to proceed. And there were an array of interested parties trying to push him in their preferred direction. There were, for example, unreconstructed big whites who took the arrival of the more conservative Consulate to mean that they could poke their heads back up again. Among them were Moreau de Saint-Méry, back from his exile in Philadelphia and with his well known expertise was given a position in the Consulate’s colonial office. These old big whites demanded a return to white supremacy and slavery and also the return of any property that they had lost over the past decade including human property. Obviously they argued that the ex slave Toussaint Louverture could not be kept in power. So these guys were anti-emancipation, pro-racist and anti-Toussaint Louverture.
But balancing this group were more liberal whites who also had long experience in the colony who told Bonaparte that emancipation and racial equality could not be undone, but that Toussaint Louverture was a dangerous tyrant who could not be maintained in power. This was, for example, the line taken by Sonthonax who took time out of his retirement to draft a memorandum defending liberty and equality while denouncing Toussaint. Joining this particular line were the exiled free coloreds like André Rigaud and General Villatte and Alexandre Pétion. It would be the height of folly to re-enslave the blacks, but you must get rid of Toussaint. So this group was pro-emancipation, anti-racist, but also anti-Toussaint.
But Toussaint did have his supporters. Presumably Lavaux continued to stump for his old friend and comrade. And then amongst those arguing in Toussaint’s favor, may have been Joséphine Bonaparte. Napoleon’s wife was a Creole born into a wealthy planter family from Martinique who owned a plantation in Saint Domingue. After winning the War of Knives, Toussaint had taken over this plantation and now ran it at the state’s expense, sending the profits back to Joséphine. Now, traditionally, Joséphine has been cast as the mouthpiece of the unreconstructed big whites whispering in Napoleon’s ear to reimpose slavery and white supremacy. But her and Toussaint apparently exchanged mutually grateful letters and there’s no actual evidence that Joséphine was pushing this racist slave line. And I’m following here the excellent recent book by Philippe Girard called “The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon” and spends quite a bit of time analyzing Bonaparte’s decision making during this period.
By early 1801 though, it’s clear that Bonaparte had at least decided that the de facto independence that had reigned in Saint Domingue since 1791 was going to end. If he really was able to get clear of the British, he was going to send an army to the Caribbean to fully reassert French control over her colonies. But where Toussaint fit into this equation still appeared to be up in the air as late as March 1801. On the one hand, a talented military strongman like Toussaint might be of great service – keeping Saint Domingue in line, strengthening French power in the Americas. Then again, Toussaint might be a huge hindrance. He might go fight for independence and weaken French power in the Americas. Bonaparte’s indecision went so far as to produce a letter in early March 1801, never actually sent, confirming Toussaint’s rank as commander in chief. But by the end of the month, Bonaparte had changed his mind. The First Consul decided that General Toussaint was likely to be more of a hindrance than a help in implementing his master plan, a master plan we’ll get to in a moment, and so he drafted orders to relieve Toussaint of his command. These orders would be carried by the massive military expedition Bonaparte began to organize to reassert the Metropole’s authority over her wayward colony.
Now, oddly enough though, it was not until about a week after he drafted this order that the absolutely enraging news came in from Toussaint saying, “Oh, by the way, I just annexed Santo Domingo. Just thought you should know.” This news was infuriating to Bonaparte on multiple levels. On a political level, Bonaparte did not want Toussaint to control the whole island. On a military level, this closed off any chances that the coming expedition would enjoy an uncontested landing on the east end of Hispaniola. And then, on a personal level, Toussaint had not asked for permission to annex Santo Domingo, he had just done it and only reported it after the fact. And this was a direct challenge to the First Consul’s authority and it made Bonaparte’s blood boil.
But here we get to talk about the delicious irony of the relationship between Bonaparte and Toussaint. We went through Bonaparte’s early career in pretty good detail during the French Revolution episodes. And can you guys remember a single time that Bonaparte asked permission to do anything? I mean, he marched around conquering territory, creating new republics from thin air, writing constitutions, opening diplomatic negotiations with foreign powers, all by fiat and assertion, and always reported back to Paris after the fact. And now here he is, faced with a subordinate general, because that’s what Toussaint still is, remember, he’s just a general in the French Army, doing exactly, and I mean exactly what Bonaparte had once done. And Bonaparte hates him for it. Toussaint is sometimes called the black Napoleon. And as you can see, then, the analogy was not just that they were two great autocratic minded military men who served in the French army around the same time. Toussaint is running Bonaparte’s playbook here. He’s conducting his own foreign policy, annexing territory without orders, and he’s about to draft a constitution. When confronted with a general who was the mirror image of himself, First Consul Bonaparte is absolutely losing his mind. And the irony really is delicious.
Unbeknownst to Bonaparte, Toussaint was continuing to run the Bonaparte playbook by drafting a constitution for Saint Domingue. On February 4, 1801, the 7th anniversary of the National Convention sweeping confirmation of emancipation and racial equality, Toussaint convened a small committee to draft a constitution. The composition of this committee was reflective of Toussaint’s slow drift away from his roots. No longer did he identify with the black workers in the field and instead he surrounded himself with the educated whites of the salons. The men he called were seven whites and two coloreds. One of them, probably the most important of them, was Julien Raimond. These guys worked into the summer of 1801, drawing up a constitution that would replace Toussaint’s de facto military dictatorship with a du jour military dictatorship.
And this is as good a time as any to mention that his work on the Constitution of 1801 would be Julien Raimond’s last public act. Shortly after the constitution was published, Raimond died at the age of 57. He was, without question, one of the two or three most important figures in the history of the Haitian Revolution, serving on both sides of the Atlantic, pushing for the equal rights of all men before the Declaration of the Rights of Man had even been conceived. And though Raimond had been a slaveholder and had never fought for emancipation, when it came, he defended it too. That all men were born and remained free and equal in rights. The constitution he was now helping draft for his colony had to have been bittersweet. It would confirm absolutely the racial equality he had sought his whole life. But it also created an authoritarian dictatorship that could not have been 100% in line with his own political principles.
But though Toussaint Louverture was now transitioning into absolute military dictator, he was not the kind of guy to just kick back in a fortress and live fat while his country went to hell. Toussaint had a restless, almost manic energy and with so few actual political institutions able to govern the colony, it fell to him to manage and even micromanage everything. He and his secretaries had gotten their dictation system down to a refined art and everyday Toussaint composed 100 or more letters and decrees and memos. He practically never slept in the same bed on consecutive nights, and he and his small cadre of secretaries kept constantly on the move, riding 100 miles a day, no problem. Now, part of this was to stymie assassination attempts and he made a regular habit of saying he was going to one place and then suddenly turning around and riding in the opposite direction. He also, for the record, avoided open windows and only ate food prepared by his personal cooks. But this was also about the need to be everywhere at once.
So Toussaint was a dictator and his vision for Saint Domingue was increasingly resented by the population. But I don’t think that his embrace of harsh authoritarian plantation economics was just a cynical power play. I mean, it was, but I think he really did believe that it was the best thing for the colony and he worked tirelessly to make it work for the colony. He was a man of action and energy and he never stopped moving until the day that he was finally thrown into a dismal prison and left to die. And even then, I can’t imagine that Toussaint Louverture ever stopped thinking and planning and dreaming.
So the constitution that emerged in the summer of 1801, known to history as the Constitution of 1801, was a blueprint, as I’ve said, for a military dictatorship but not an independent military dictatorship. And the very first article said that Saint Domingue was a part of the French empire and that this document merely fulfilled Article 91 of the Constitution of Year VIII which required special laws for the colonies. Clearly though, the Constitution of 1801 was meant to preempt any attempt by France to use special laws to reverse all that had been achieved since 1791. So Toussaint’s constitution stated, there can exist no slaves in this territory where servitude is forever abolished and all men are born, live and die free and French. And then it went on to say every man, whatever his color, has access to all types of employment. But after enshrining these most radical of revolutionary doctrines, liberty and equality. The rest of the Constitution of 1801 was authoritarian and conservative. It said, for example, that as the colony is based on agriculture, it cannot permit the slightest interruption in agricultural work, and then proceeded to explicitly enshrine the Labor Code Toussaint had promulgated in October.
As for the nature of the government itself, it said, “The Constitution designates as Governor citizen Toussaint Louverture, General in Chief of the army of Saint Domingue. In consideration of the important services this General has rendered to the colony in critical circumstances of the revolution and in accordance with the wishes of the grateful inhabitants, the reigns are bestowed upon him for the rest of his glorious life.” The powers that the Governor would now enjoy for the rest of his glorious life were both wide and deep. He could hire and fire every military or government officer. He proposed and enforced all laws. A small assembly called the Central Assembly was created, but all it could do was approve or reject laws proposed by the Governor. And since the assembly was elected by local administrators appointed by the Governor, well, you can imagine how often they could be expected to resist his will. And in case there was any mistaking that the military was the source of political power, if the Governor died in office, his power would, quote, “pass provisionally into the hands of the highest ranking general”. You can’t really be more clear than that. And if you didn’t like any of this, well, that was tough luck. The Governor had the right to censor the press at his discretion, political clubs were forbidden, and the courts, like everything else, were under the Governor’s direct authority. And if he suspected you of sedition, you wouldn’t even go to the regular court. You would face a special military tribunal, also directly controlled by, you guessed it, the Governor.
When the Constitution emerged in June 1801, Toussaint showed it to his friend and supporter, Colonel Vincent, who said, “Yeah, okay, this is fine, but for God’s sake, don’t publish it without approval from France. Whatever that first article says about being a part of the French Empire, if you unilaterally adopt this constitution, it will be taken as a declaration of independence, and France will have to respond.” But Toussaint decided to push on anyway. As long as France and Britain were at war and the British Navy controlled the Atlantic, he had nothing substantial to worry about from France. First Consul Bonaparte could stomp his feet all he wanted, but it would not create a ripple in the ocean that stood between them. So on July 8, 1801, Toussaint convened a massive public ceremony in Le Cap and announced that the new Constitution was in effect and he was officially Governor for life.
With the Constitution then published, he gave Colonel Vincent the unenviable task of carrying it back to Paris to present it to First Consul Bonaparte. So back to Europe when Colonel Vincent, who appears to have spent most of his time between 1799 and 1801 on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic. But Colonel Vincent need not have worried about Toussaint Louverture provoking the First Consul, because by the time the Constitution was published, Bonaparte was already way ahead of them.
Having settled on a course of confrontation with Saint Domingue, First Consul Bonaparte had been steadily building up his invasion force. It had begun in May as a contingent of a few thousand troops, but had been ballooning by the week as the First Consul kept adding more brigades to the expedition, most of them coming from the veteran divisions of the army of the Rhine. But it was all going to be for naught if he couldn’t properly manage France’s international relationships. And to help him manage those relationships, he turned, of course, to his foreign Minister, Talleyrand. Bonaparte and Talleyrand were already well on their way to diplomatic victory by the summer of 1801. And it was really just the last few details that needed to be locked down with the three powers they needed to maneuver around: the United States, Spain and Britain. To take the United States first, as we discussed in Episode 3.44, “The War Feeds Itself”, the French war machine was now premised on supplying and enriching itself from the territories they conquered and occupied. But this approach was not going to work in Saint Domingue. Everyone knew the colony was built on cash crops, the inhabitants couldn’t feed or supply themselves. So it’s not like a massive French army is going to be able to just live off the land. And since supply lines across the Atlantic were long and fraught with danger and delay, ensuring that the French army could buy from American suppliers was critical to the success of the mission.
So first, Bonaparte had to bring the Quasi War to an end. The negotiations that had begun in March 1800 to end the conflict finally concluded in September with the signing of the Convention of 1800. This convention returned the two countries to a state of peace, ending both their military and trade war, and I should add, making a dead letter of Toussaint’s Clause. This was good news for the French Consulate. And then, a few months later, they got even better news: Thomas Jefferson and his partisans had just captured both the White House and Congress. Since Jefferson was a Francophile slave owner, one might expect that his position towards the slave state of Saint Domingue would be quite a bit different than the Adams Administration. And indeed it was, which was music to the ears of Bonaparte and Talleyrand, and not so much for Toussaint Louverture. Talleyrand then personally selected an agent to go field Jefferson out. In their first meeting, Jefferson seemed to indicate that aiding the French expedition would be no problem at all. He referred to Saint Domingue as another Algiers, that as a pirate state that was a threat to all civilized nations. He said that the Americans would be happy to keep French bellies full while starving out Toussaint Louverture. The agent reported all this back to Paris with enthusiastic delight, and Talleyrand and Bonaparte received it with enthusiastic delight. But unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson was a man who often said one thing and did another, as the French would soon find out.
Aside from the Americans, there was also the Spanish, who held in their possession something that Bonaparte wanted very badly. So just after concluding the treaty with the Americans that ended the Quasi War, the French concluded a secret treaty with the Spanish in October 1800 that fulfilled one of Bonaparte’s key ambitions: the reacquisition of the Louisiana territory. The Louisiana territory had, of course, originally been a French possession, part of their massive land claims in North America that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. But when the French had gotten beat in the Seven Years War, they ceded Canada to the British and Louisiana to the Spanish, and the Spanish had been holding it ever since. Louisiana territory was huge, as you hopefully remember from fifth grade history. It encompassed the whole western half of the Mississippi River watershed. And as we discussed way back in Episode 2.14, “The Critical Period”, relations between the Spanish and the new United States over access to the Mississippi River was a major point of contention for the early American governments. Under heavy pressure from Bonaparte, the Spanish agreed to retro seed Louisiana to the French in exchange for some territory in Italy.
The reacquisition of Louisiana was as critical to Bonaparte’s long term ambitions in the Americas, as securing supplies from the United States was to his short term ambitions. And for the same reasons: Saint Domingue and Guadeloupe and Martinique and any other Caribbean island the French may happen to one day control were best exploited as sugar and coffee factories. Directing them towards any other end was just silly. But as we saw back at the beginning of our series on the Haitian Revolution, actually supplying the sugar islands from France was arduous, expensive and not particularly efficient. It was a system that was often unable to supply everything the colonies actually needed, which was one of those lines of tension we talked about in our original web of tension. So what Bonaparte now had in mind was that the sugar islands would draw their resources from mainland French Louisiana in a traditional mercantilist, closed market colonial system with all the profits shipped back to France. But even more than that, Bonaparte envisioned that one day the entire Gulf of Mexico would be the exclusive domain of the French Empire. But when the details of the secret handover of Louisiana started leaking out to the capitals of the world, President Thomas Jefferson would start to really wonder who posed a bigger threat to America’s interests in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture or Napoleon Bonaparte. With the Spanish and Americans taken care of, Bonaparte and Talleyrand then turned back to the real key: the British. If the British decided to stand in the way of Bonaparte’s plan to retake Saint Domingue … Well, I mean, the British Navy is awesome. You can’t have the British standing in your way. Luckily, Westminster was sick of war. And so in October 1801, that is a year after the treaties had been signed with the Americans in Spanish, the British and French signed the preliminary articles of what would become the Treaty of Amiens. But just because peace was at hand, that didn’t mean the French could expect the British to just sit back and watch a massive French armada sail across the Atlantic. So Bonaparte worked to get a firm commitment from the British that the massing French fleet would not be messed with. But the British were noncommittal. They agreed in principle that France had the right to access her colonies without interference and also that an armed slave state in the Caribbean was in no one’s interest. But, well, what if you’re lying? What if this is all a ruse and that at the last minute, the French armada sails right on by Saint Domingue and instead launches an invasion of Jamaica? This was not irrational paranoia. This was a very plausible threat. So the British dragged their feet on giving Bonaparte an answer.
The foot dragging was especially frustrating for Bonaparte because one thing everyone now understood about sending European troops to the Caribbean was that these troops were going to be decimated by malaria and yellow fever their first summer in the colonies. So the expedition to Saint Domingue had to get to Saint Domingue and secure control of Saint Domingue before the summer of 1802, otherwise the whole thing would be a write off. So Bonaparte was really desperate to get the British admiralty to say, “Okay, we won’t mess with you.” And he did two things to get them to say this. One pretty obvious, the other pretty unconventional.
The obvious one was to say, “Look, if my guys don’t leave soon, I’m going to have to cancel the whole expedition. If I do that, I’ll just go ahead and confirm General Toussaint and you guys can deal with a quasi independent slave state, armed to the teeth, 50 miles from Jamaica.”
Now, the unconventional thing he did was to hand over a complete inventory of everything being made ready to sail. Every ship, every regiment, every gun, every barrel of flour. He handed over the expedition’s entire manifest and said, “I would not be giving you this if my plan was to attack you, now, would I? So can I please go reconquer my colony now?” And the British said, “Okay”, and then they held their breath.
If there was any lingering doubt in Bonaparte’s mind that pushing Toussaint out of power was the right thing to do, these were banished when Colonel Vincent showed up at the end of October with a copy of the Constitution of 1801 in hand. Vincent tried to defend what Toussaint had done, but Bonaparte took it exactly the way that Colonel Vincent expected that he would: as a declaration of independence. After a curt face-to-face meeting, Bonaparte dismissed Vincent, and Vincent would not return to Saint Domingue. Governor for life Toussaint Louverture was on his own. And with the international waters cleared and the army massed on the Atlantic coast, it was time for the French invasion fleet to set sail.
We’ll get into all the details of what will become known as the Leclerc Expedition next week. But to end this week’s show, we must return to Saint Domingue, because just as the Constitution of 1801 was landing on Bonaparte’s desk, Toussaint had to deal with his most troubling cultivator insurrection, both in terms of its size and its personal implications. On October 21, 1801, ominous movements in Le Cap raised alarm bells inside the headquarters of the general in charge of the city, a guy by the name of Henri Christophe, who just so happens to be the future Emperor of the Kingdom of Haiti. But let’s set that aside for now. Christophe was alerted to suspicious meetings of blacks in Le Cap, and when he wrote out to investigate, he actually got shot at by a would-be assassin. The assassin was captured and then persuaded to spill his guts that a widespread network of conspirators was planning an armed revolt, one that looked to rival the original slave rebellion of 1791. But Christophe had caught on just in the nick of time. With a list of names in hand, he then spent the rest of the night rounding up everyone believed to be connected to the plot. And by the time the sun rose, the revolt had been crushed before it had a chance to begin.
But that was just the revolt set to go off in the city, because out on the Northern Plains, where Boukman and Jeannot and Jean-François and Biassou had raised the initial revolt ten years earlier, the cultivators were rising up again. By October 23, great mobs of armed blacks were marching through the Plains, killing every wight they could find. Hundreds of whites were massacred over the next few days. This sudden and very well coordinated uprising pointed to professional planning, and suspicion fell on General Moyse, the commander in chief of the North Province. Moyse had been growing visibly disenchanted with Toussaint’s regime, and he was making no secret about it. Moyse had resisted harsh implementation of the Labor Codes, and he told his adoptive uncle, quote, “I will not be the executioner of my race.” He also advocated breaking off small plots of land and selling them to junior officers and even common soldiers to move the colony away from huge plantations towards smaller self-sufficiency. Moyse’s involvement in the revolt was further suspected because the uprising was launched just as Toussaint was beginning a three week inspection tour of the south, the first stop of which would be attending Dessalines’s wedding in Saint-Marc. And you had to be somebody who knew that the governor and his most ruthless general were going to be distracted to coordinate that kind of timing.
Now, whatever Moyse’s actual role, the insurrection turned out to be short lived. Christophe had managed to nip the urban side of the revolt in the bud and then hold the line on the Plains until reinforcements arrived. And when reinforcements did arrive, they arrived in force and led by Dessalines, the cultivators were ruthlessly crushed and the leaders either killed in battle or arrested and dragged to Le Cap for summary trial. Moyse was himself arrested and held in custody until Toussaint arrived in Le Cap on November 4. All the captured leaders fell under the special military tribunals that would prosecute sedition. But Toussaint would not even allow these to proceed. He ordered his officers to find Moyse and the alleged conspirators guilty without even letting them speak in their own defense. Indeed, the next time Moyse did speak in public, it was standing before a firing squad, and Toussaint allowed his adopted nephew the courtesy to give the order to fire.
After summarily executing two or three dozen ringleaders, Toussaint then published a scathing address denouncing the ungrateful and dishonorable black cultivators who lacked religion and morals. Throughout the address, he really starts to sound like no one so much as a Robespierre at the end of his rope. He denounced the population for their lack of virtue. And he followed this address by tightening the labor laws still further, creating a system of identification cards that everyone was required to carry at all times. It listed your name and occupation and place of residence. And if you weren’t where you were supposed to be, doing what you were supposed to be doing, the consequences would be severe, because slavery is freedom.
The aborted revolt and Toussaint’s reaction to it exposed deep cleavages in Saint Domingue. The cultivators hated the military. The military hated the cultivators. Toussaint was no longer an object of venerated affection. His senior officers had just watched Toussaint execute his own adopted nephew without trial for merely being suspected of sedition. And they had to wonder if that would one day be their fate, too. So this was a really bad time to be getting news that France and Britain had concluded a peace. News of their treaty finally hit Saint Domingue in December 1801. And with it came news that Bonaparte was massing a fleet. So next week, Toussaint Louverture would face a war the size and scope of which was larger than anything he had faced so far. And it was a war that his people would eventually win, but that Toussaint himself would ultimately lose.
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