How Successful Was The Haitian Revolution?

On 22 August 1791, African slaves staged the first revolt against their colonial masters in the then French colony of Saint-Domingue. This resulted in the near thirteen-year long Haitian Revolution, which culminated in the establishment of the sovereign state of Haiti in 1804. The revolution is the largest slave uprising since Spartacus. He was a Thracian gladiator who, along with others, launched a slave uprising- albeit an unsuccessful one- against the Roman Republic nearly two millenniums ago, and is often referred to as the most successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere. While there is no denying that the Haitian Revolution was successful in overthrowing the French colonialists, the almost-continuous sociopolitical turmoil which has engulfed the country ever since its independence means that there is a need to seriously reconsider whether the Haitian Revolution can be deemed a “success” in the truest sense of the word.

Early Days of Independence

Following Haiti’s independence, slavery was officially abolished and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the Revolution and Haiti’s first president, reorganized Haiti’s economy on the principle of serfdom, declaring that all Haitians would be either a laborer or a soldier, and all laborers would be bound to a plantation. To avoid his system being compared to slavery, Dessalines prohibited the use of the whip. However, that did not prevent laborers from being physically abused as their abusers turned to use liana, a long-stemmed, woody vine that can be found across Haiti, to carry out the beatings in an attempt to boost productivity rates. Many laborers recognized that the system put in place by Dessalines was no different from that of their former French colonizers and merely substituting chattel slavery with economic slavery. This eventually led to increased resentment against their President.

Over Militarization

Dessalines’ rule was marked by an over militarization of the country. Nearly one out of ten able-bodied Haitian men served in the military; the significant number of fit, young men being drafted into the army means that many plantations were deprived of the necessary manpower to function properly. Additionally, considerable economic resources were poured into the construction of massive fortifications such as Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere. This led to widespread discontent towards his rule, which resulted in his assassination in 1806. Many historians in the twenty-first century are now of the opinion that Haiti’s over militarization was a significant contributor to many of the problems the country has faced and are still facing.

Assassination of Jovenel Moïse

The assassination of Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 sent shockwaves around the world. Drawing on the revolutionary spirit of Dessalines, Moïse centered his electoral campaign on the idea that a booming agricultural industry will turn Haiti’s economy around, and he was subsequently elected to the Presidency. However, his reign soon descended into a similar pattern as that of Dessalines, making use of the country’s police and military forces against targets deemed not productive enough, as well as his political opponents. Gangs engaged in kidnappings and murders have alleged ties to the Moïse government, and the President’s refusal to step down in February 2021 when his term expired ultimately contributed to his assassination. The never-ending sociopolitical turmoil in Haiti, which draws comparable patterns to the system put in place by the French colonialists prior to Haiti’s independence, raises doubts about whether the Haiti Revolution is really a success. To learn more about black history, please visit our website.

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