Letter from Monseron de l’Aunay to the Marquis de Condorcet, President of the Society of Friends of the Blacks (24 December 1789)

This letter appears in the Journal of Paris as part of a debate over a performance of a play by Olympe de Gouges, the noted feminist, that concerns the abolition of the slave trade. The letter is written by a deputy of the Chamber of Commerce of the port city of Nantes, which had close ties to the Caribbean economy. He would like to protect French interests against potential British incursion.


You send me alarming news from our sugar islands, principally from Saint Domingue. The inhabitants of that island may all be currently being held at knife point by the Negroes in revolt.

Perverse men abuse the purity of your intentions, criminally interpreting the decrees of the National Assembly and making their treacherous plans undo what humanity and liberty have done for the happiness of its citizens in another hemisphere. In the name of this humanity, of which you are a worthy apostle, and in the name of the homeland that counts you among it best citizens, I beg you sir, add your voice to the cries of pain of all the Haitians of our islands, of the colonial land-owners living in France, and of the uncountable mass of Frenchmen who live off the commerce of the colonies. Consider that these colonies are France's destiny. Consider the sixty million [francs] profit from their exports each year, and the enormous importance of the income already lost. Consider that their capital of three billion [francs] is the sacred property of their owners, and that this capital is the security against the four-hundred million [francs] that they owe continental France. Consider that six million men live there along with eighty-thousand Frenchmen, and that half of France would be plunged into sadness and misery [if the islands were lost].

Our eternal rival [Britain], whose ambitious policies may be having them underhandedly sharpen their swords, smile at our misfortunes and, beneath this horrible rubble, foresee the scepter of their world-wide domination that no human force would be able to take from them.

We must not wait Sir, for verified reports to confirm our misfortunes. By the time the first spark will have reached us, the fire will have consumed everything. Five hundred leagues away, doubt is more awful than certainty. There are no words to gauge the horrified imagination and public terror that lead the best minds astray. The suspension of all work and a long delay in the contribution of a fortune so uncertain, are but a faint sketch of the ills that are easier felt than expressed.

Let us meet then Sir, to beg the National Assembly to protect the life and property of the French, and by a solemn decree arm the executive power with the fullness of the force, enjoin them to make sure that the Colonies are not damaged in the least.

Signed, Monseron de l'Aunay.

Source: Supplement to the Journal of Paris, vol. 362 (28 December 1789).