Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance by Ronald Angelo Johnson (review)
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Toussaint Louverture, John Adams, Saint-Domingue, Diplomacy, Atlantic World

Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance. By Ronald Angelo Johnson. (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2014. Pp. 241. Cloth, $49.95.)

Joining a growing body of scholarship on Saint-Domingue and its relation to the early American Republic, Ronald Angelo Johnson argues that race was a central political issue in John Adams’s relationship to Toussaint Louverture. Diplomacy in Black and White provides a fresh perspective on the dynamic role race played in Dominguan–American diplomacy, particularly in the period surrounding the Intercourse Act of 1799. In the first monograph-length study of this topic, Johnson uses foreign correspondence, congressional debates, presidential papers, and newsprint to argue that the Adams administration successfully negotiated concepts of race in order to foster a mutually beneficial Atlantic World alliance with General Toussaint Louverture in Saint-Domingue. Ultimately, Diplomacy in Black and White tells the story of the planning, execution, and collapse of Dominguan–American diplomacy at the end of the eighteenth century. [End Page 680]

Johnson argues that between 1798 and 1800 a major shift occurred in geopolitical diplomacy. When France’s relationship to the United States and Saint-Domingue faltered during America’s Quasi-War with France, Dominguans and Americans sought out each other. For the Adams administration, a close association with Saint-Domingue represented an opportunity within the Caribbean to increase trade and expel French forces from the Western Atlantic. For General Louverture, the United States was a trade partner and a source of commercial, military, and political support for his conquest of Hispaniola. Thereby, Adams and Louverture established a short-lived diplomatic bond under the Intercourse Act of 1799, and a subsequent tripartite treaty was agreed to by British, Dominguan, and American officials. Johnson argues that within the United States, the Adams administration skillfully handled the topic of race (inherent in Americans’ perceptions of Louverture and Saint- Domingue), to gain support for this alliance.

Diplomacy in Black and White highlights several important events in Dominguan–American diplomacy, each chapter-length: Joseph Bunel’s 1798 diplomatic mission to Philadelphia, the 1799 Intercourse Act, Edward Stevens’s appointment as consul general, the joint command of Commodore Silas Talbot and General Toussaint Louverture, John Marshall’s appointment as secretary of state in 1800, and the reversals of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Highlighting each, Johnson draws attention to diplomacy fraught with racial implications and operating on several different levels.

In the first two chapters, he argues that race was influential both in Americans’ perception of the Intercourse Act of 1799 and in Adams’s strategy for supporting this law. In 1798, Louverture initiated talks by sending Joseph Bunel as special envoy to Philadelphia, armed with a promise to protect American shipping interests in Saint-Domingue. Seizing the opportunity, while responding to anti-French sentiments, the Adams administration and leading Federalists brought the Intercourse Act to Congress. This law maintained the commercial embargo of France but allowed the president to reopen market relations with French territories that defended American ships from French privateers. Race became a major component of the resulting political debate, as southern lawmakers questioned the extent of America’s commitment to a racially diverse Saint-Domingue. Johnson holds that a strategy of limiting commercial involvement, minimizing the racial implications, while highlighting the possibly disastrous repercussions if the U.S. failed to support [End Page 681] Saint-Domingue, succeeded for the Adams administration. After the Intercourse Act passed in January 1799, Adams and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering underwrote a diplomatic mission to Louverture’s Saint-Domingue.

In the following four chapters, Diplomacy in Black and White explores the depth of the Dominguan–American alliance. Here, too, Johnson argues that race played an important role. The Intercourse Act of 1799 enabled Adams to foster a closer relationship to Louverture through a strong diplomatic and military commitment. In that year, the president appointed Edward Stevens as consul general to Louverture’s northern province in Saint-Domingue and named Silas Talbot, captain of the USS Consitution, as commander of the Saint-Domingue Naval Station. This political mission stressed professionalism, and...