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X THE C A N C E R OF R E V O L U T I O N ALTHOUGH THE REVOLUTION FAILED TO PROVIDE SUFFIcient impetus for abolition of slavery in the eighteenth century, it is well known that the Revolution helped spark successful attempts at freedom elsewhere. Ironically, the first triumphant imitators were Negro slaves. The reaction of Americans to the shocks of revolution which swept through France and the West Indies was mixed. They hoped for the triumph of liberty in the world but not for a complete one. They delighted to talk of freedom but wished their slaveswould not. They assumed that their slaves yearned for liberty but were determined not to let them have it. To trace the spread of Negro rebellion in the New World and to examine American responses to what they saw as a mounting tide of danger is to watch the drastic erosion of the ideology of the American Revolution. It is also to glimpse a chronological pattern which virtually matched the courses of nation building, agricultural change, and the fortunes of antislavery. That there were numerous causal links among these patterns is obvious, yet the precisioned parade of coincidences points in a number of instances to chance. It was not unprecedented in human affairs that causal and chance relationships worked together to weave one fabric of social change. i. ST. DOMINGO On New Year's Day 1804 the Republic of Haiti became the second independent nation in the hemisphere, ruled by triumphant revolutionaries who were, of all things, black. France had lost the pearl of her empire, hundreds of thousands of people on the island had lost their lives, and millions of white men in other lands [375] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K wondered what had happened. Standing before a crowd of shouting blacks, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the new Negro ruler, seized the tricolor in furious hatred and tore from it the band of white. The new republic was born in bloody turmoil. By comparison the American Revolution was a quiet, polite affair, appropriately begun with a tea party. The revolution in St. Domingo (as most Americans then called the western French portion of the island of Hispaniola) actually began in Paris and was for at least a decade a distorted extension of the French Revolution. The calling of the Estates General in 1788 excited the white planters, some of who.. disregarding warnings from the more conservative, hustled off a delegation to Paris in hopes of undermining the arbitrary powers of the resident governor-general and intendant. Before the enthusiastic colonial deputies had a chance to do more than air their grievances , events in Paris took an ominous turn. The Bastille fell July 14, 1789, and six weeks later the National Assembly grandly issue its Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, in language strongly reminiscent of the American declaration. Strange talk about equality gave the planter delegates reason for pause, the more so because an obvious corollary was being noisily expounded by Les Amis des Noirs, an abolitionist group with connections in Britain and the United States. In addition to dividing the forty thousand whites of the colony, revolutionary principles infected the free colored caste, numbering some twenty-eight thousand, most of whom were mulattoes and all of whom suffered galling civil, political, and social disabilities. The National Assembly in Paris, entangled with domestic difficulties, played shuttlecock with the island time bomb by promulgating a vacillating series of decrees which several times granted and withdrew full political equality for mulattoes. The first mulatto revolt was viciously suppressed in 1791. But the example was not lost on the Negroes, and that summer many of the half million slaves seized firebrand and machete and devastated northern parts of the colony. The following years were characterized by bumbling confusion and barbarous atrocities on all sides. Negroes, whites, and mulattoes slaughtered each other by turns and the kaleidescope of alignments whirred ever more rapidly as French troops, Jacobin commissioners, and English and Spanish armies poured in. In 1793 the leading port of Cap Fran^ais was the scene of a battle which ranged mulatto soldiery led by Jacobin commissioners against a French governorgeneral backed by white residents and sailors from the French fleet. Near defeat, the desperate commissioners summoned massesof blacks [376] The Cancer of Revolution from the surrounding plain with promises of liberty and opportunity to pillage. The result was complete destruction...


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