The Revolution Issue

Haiti’s Slave Revolt

One of the events that defined our modern world.
Haiti’s Slave Revolt

A Brief History of Revolution

The uprising in the French colony of Saint-Domingue that led to the creation of the independent black Caribbean republic of Haiti in 1804 was one of the major events that defined our modern world. Unlike the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, the Haitian insurrection directly challenged the system of racial hierarchy that had prevailed throughout the Atlantic world since the beginning of the colonial era. The American revolutionaries had consolidated slavery in the Southern states, and the French legislators evaded a confrontation with the subject until the insurrection in their major colony made action unavoidable. Only the Haitian movement proclaimed that liberty was incompatible with chattel slavery and that equality had to include people of all races. Our understanding of the revolutionary era is not complete unless it takes account of this upheaval, the only successful slave revolt in history and one that led to the creation of the first postcolonial republic to be established by people of color. The French colony of Saint-Domingue had been the source of half the world's sugar and coffee; the revolution there shook the foundations of the system of trade routes, plantations, and investments that had tied the Atlantic world together for three centuries. The saga of the black insurrection and of its legendary leader, Toussaint Louverture, has inspired resistance movements in the African Diaspora and the non-Western world ever since. More somberly, in Europe and the United States, the reaction to the Haitian Revolution helped strengthen the racial prejudices that haunt the globe even today.

From Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection by Jeremy D. Popkin


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