A Divided Elite from An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti

In this excerpt, Rainsford describes the divisive effects of the Declaration of Rights of the Blacks among the various racial/social groupings.


The publication of the Declaration of Rights did not tend to remedy this unfavorable impression of the people against one of their own communities, "for the article that All men are born, and continue, free and equal as to their rights," implied an entire subversion of their establishments, and created a complete ferment among the whole of the French proprietors. They conceived, and the French government appear afterwards to have done the same, that the effect of this declaration was to rouse the negroes to an assertion of those rights it was supposed to give them. Apprehensive of disorders arising in the colony, [the] governor received orders from his new constituents, the National Assembly, to call together the inhabitants for the purpose of interior regulation. The measure had been anticipated by the ready disposition of the self-constituted legislators, and a provincial assembly for the northern district had already met at Cape François; an example which was soon followed by the western and southern provinces, the former of which met at Port-au-Prince, and the latter at Aux Cayes. For more immediate communication between the people, and to accommodate every description, parochial committees were also established. These committees were of the disposition which might be expected, and, by dividing, among themselves upon every occasion, they served only to inform the negroes of their frivolity; and to excite them to take advantage of their want of unanimity and power; and the principal determination in their proceedings was that, of the necessity of a full and speedy colonial representation. The order of the king, however, which was received in January 1790, tended to supersede their deliberations, by convoking a general Colonial Assembly, which was appointed to meet in the central town of Leogane. . . .

The mulattoes, not willing to be left behind in exertion, when they perceived the opposition of the whites to every movement of the government, determined to proceed a step still farther, and accordingly arming themselves, they proceeded to claim by force the benefit of equal privileges with the whites. Their combination was premature, and they were soon overpowered. . . .

In the division of parties, too, inconsistent as it may appear, some of the whites, among whom were included persons of high respectability, adopted the cause of the people of color, and even seconded their inclination to revolt. Among these, an old magistrate named Ferrand de Beaudierre, was the first to become conspicuous, for the purpose of removing the disgrace which had attached to him in consequence of having offered marriage to a woman of color. He drew up a memorial in their behalf, which had not time to be presented to the parochial committee, before, he was seized by an enraged mob, and put to death. The deputy procureur-general, M. Dubois, also, whose duty demanded a different course, became so infatuated, as to declaim against the slavery of the negroes in their presence; but he enjoyed a milder fate; he was only arrested by the people, and dismissed from the colony by the, governor, who soon after followed.

Such was the confused state of the colony, and every one seemed to be so bent upon harassing the metropolitan government, that it was, with great reason, apprehended in France, that the island was about to declare itself independent, or to submit to some foreign power. The alarm became general throughout those places which had any concern with St. Domingo, and the National Assembly on being earnestly implored to consider of the best means of saving so valuable a dependency resolved, after a serious discussion of the subject, "That it was not the intention of the Assembly to interfere with the interior government of the colonies, or to subject them to laws incompatible with their local establishments; they therefore authorized the inhabitants of each colony to signify their own plan of legislation and commercial arrangement, preserving only a conformity with the principles of the mother country, and a regard for the reciprocal interests of both." It superadded, that no innovation was intended in an any system of commerce in which the colonies were already concerned. It will easily be conceived that this conciliating resolution, so necessary, as regarded the discontented white colonists, would be very differently received by the people of color. It excited among them a general clamor, which extended to every part where their cause (diffused by the means used on those occasions) was known, or even heard of.

Source: Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending a View of the Principal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint-Domingo; with its Ancient and Modern State (London, 1805), 110–13.