Grievance List (September 1789)

The free blacks and mulattos, many of them substantial property owners and slaveholders, sent delegates to the National Assembly in France with a list of their stated grievances and demands. This list of grievances—modeled on those sent from the various districts of France in the spring of 1789—demonstrates the power of the idea of rights but also the particular concerns of those living in the colonies; the free blacks wanted freedom and rights for themselves but assume the continuance of slavery.


JOURNAL, Containing the Complaints, Grievances, and Claims of the Free-citizens and colored landowners of the French Islands and Colonies:

Article I. The inhabitants of the French colonies are exclusively and generally divided into two classes, Freemen and those who are born, and live, in slavery.

Article II. The class of Freemen includes not only all the Whites, but also all of the colored Creoles, the Free Blacks, Mulattos, small minorities, and others.

Article III. The freed Creoles, as well as their children and their descendants, should have the same rights, rank, prerogatives, exemptions, and privileges as other colonists.

Article IV. For that purpose, the colored Creoles request that the Declaration of the Rights of Man, decreed by the National Assembly, be applied to them, as it is to Whites. Therefore, it is requested that Articles LVII and LIX of the Edict [the Black Code] dated March 1685, be rewritten and carried out in accordance with their form and content.

Article. V. With disregard for the law, humiliating distinctions have been made until now between White men and men of color, in whichever class Nature may have placed them. To bring an end to these distinctions, resolutions must be taken that irrevocably set the respective rights and claims of those Citizens who oppress, and those who are oppressed.

Article. VI. Consequently, the National Assembly shall be requested to declare:

That Negroes and colored Creoles shall be admitted, concurrently with Whites, to all ranks, positions, responsibilities, dignities, and honors. In a word, they want to share with Whites the difficult and honorable roles of Civil government and Military service;

That in order to achieve this, they shall have access to the courts. Additionally, they shall be eligible to attain, not only the highest ranks of the Judiciary, but it would also be just that they have the freedom to fulfill the secondary roles. These functions would include: solicitor, public notary, state prosecutor, court clerk, bailiff, and any other function, regardless of title, either in France or in the Colonies.

That they shall be promoted equally with their class peers, and may try for all military positions and responsibilities, such that their color can no longer be a reason for exclusion.

That the Companies of Volunteers, Negroes, Mulattos, and small minorities, confused one with another and mixed together, shall cease as a pretext to create a distinction which should not exist between free men. That from this day on, they shall be indiscriminately made up of Whites and men of Color, without, under any pretext, the latter being excluded. . . .

8. That the priesthood, sciences, arts, professions, in a word, all of the trades, shall be accessible to citizens of color, as, to date, they have been reserved for Whites.

9. That there shall be established in the different colonies public grade schools and high schools in which Creoles of color, and even free Blacks or their children, are admitted concurrently with Whites, without any preference or any kind of predilection. . . .

Article VIII. This article shall be replaced by a disposition that simultaneously consecrates the dignity of man, the honor and safety of women slaves, their rights and the rights of their children.

For that purpose, explicit interdictions and punishments shall be given to all Citizen slave-owners of either sex and either White or of color. They shall be forbidden, under penalty, to live as husband and wife, or even cohabit in any way with their slaves. When proof of this is obtained, a fine of 1000 livres shall be given to the poor, and the slave with whom the master had lived shall be granted absolute freedom.

Article IX. These same restrictions shall apply to any free man and a female slave belonging to any other citizen.

Article X. In the case that Article VIII or IX above is breached by Free men who have cohabited with Slaves and escaped punishment heretofore indicated and who have one or more children from the cohabitation, the woman, by the sole fact of being pregnant, and the children, at the instant of their birth, shall be and shall remain free, and be masters of their own person and of their rights. . . .

Article XXII. Article VI of the Edict of 1724 forbids, as being against Natural laws, religion and civil liberties, and even contradictory to Article IX of the Edict of 1685, Whites of either sex from entering into a contract of marriage with Blacks. The National Assembly shall also be requested to revoke this, and to leave, to Whites as well as to Blacks, the freedom of being united by the bonds of Matrimony.

Source: Cahiers, contenant les plaintes, Doleances, et reclamations des citoyens-libre et proprietaires de couleur, des isles et colonies Françaises (Paris, 1789).