Notes on Tousssaint Louverture (1743 – 1803)



Toussaint Louverture was born one year after Tupac Amaru, the Inca rebellion leader in Peru. Like his Incan contemporary, Toussaint Louverture was both a precursor to Latin American independence movements and an actual leader of a successful war of independence. Born in Haiti as a slave, he was nevertheless the grandson of an African king in France's most prosperous colony in Latin America in the 18th century. In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, Haiti (for country notes, see: => Haiti), which was then the French-speaking part of the Caribbean island then called Saint-Domingue, because the whole island—though divided between French-speaking and Spanish-speaking regions—was owned by France, had a small population of white European and Creole rulers and a population of a half million black slaves and some free blacks and mulattoes. The French Revolution outlawed slavery, but the white slave owners, who favored the French monarchy rather than the French revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton, refused to free their slaves. This refusal to follow the new dictates coming from the metropolis in France motivated the slaves to revolt, and their revolt led to widespread murder and pillage. In 1791, Toussaint Louverture, who had been freed earlier, became the first leader of the black slaves independence and freedom movement. He used his private fortune to underwrite the rebellion. Haiti then was ruled by Toussaint's army of former black slaves and people of color. In all, he had to fight carefully against France, England, and Spain. By 1801 he controlled all of Haiti, the French-speaking half of the island of Hispaniola, but the Spanish-speaking section did not join his movement. Toussaint created a constitution which emancipated the slaves, but, in order to continue the immense prosperity that came from the former slave plantations, Toussaint himself imported new African slaves. In 1802, the new ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, was shown a copy of Toussaint's Haitian Constitution—Haiti had not yet declared its full independence from France. Under immense pressure from Haiti's dispossessed while plantation owners and their supporters in France, Napoleon said: "Never again will I leave an epaulette on the shoulder of a Negro." (Years later, Napoleon also said that opposing Toussaint Louverture and freedom for slaves was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.) Then Napoleon sent 54 French warships under General Leclerc to put down the slave rebellion. After terrifying battles and atrocities on both sides, Toussaint was captured by the French army. He was imprisoned in France, where he died in 1803. In 1803, however, France withdrew from Haiti, thereby making Haiti the first Latin American country to gain its independence from a European metropolis.