Without him all would come to nothing, and the struggle of the blacks would be but a spasm, to end in exhaustion and discouragement; for successful revolutions have been secured by developing, from among the unknown, the known man, around whom the elements of the new state could gather for new order.
Continuing Revolution in Haiti,
our selection from Santo Domingo: Its Revolution and Its Hero by Charles Wyllys Elliott published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Revolution in Haiti
M. Odeluc was the superintendent of the Gallifet estate, the largest on the Plain. “As happy as one of Gallifet’s negroes,” was a saying in the district. He was sure of his hands, and regretted the exaggerated terror of the whites. With a friend and three or four soldiers he rode out to the estate and found his negroes in arms with the body of a white child for a standard. Alas! poor Odeluc! He believed the negroes were dogs and would lick the hand that struck the blow. It was too late: he and his attendants were cut down without mercy. Two only escaped to tell the tale. Four thousand negroes were in arms and they were everywhere successful. The Plain was in their possession; the quarters of Morin and Limonade were in flames, and their ravages extended from the shore to the mountains. Their recklessness was succeeded by regular organization and systematic war. In the first moments of their headlong fury all whites were murdered indiscriminately. This did not last: they soon distinguished their enemies; and women and children were saved. The blacks were headed by Jean François and Biassou — generals not to be despised. Brave, rapid, unscrupulous; vain of grandeur, greedy of plunder, they were not far from the marshals of France.
This, then, was not a revolt, but a revolution! Success would decide. Never could the whites believe that the blacks were men. Ogé had revealed a widespread conspiracy, headed by well-known slaves. The whites concealed this. They did not believe him; they believed only that the blacks were their born slaves, fit for the whip, incapable of courage or honor or martyrdom. Experience only was to teach them.
At first the whites acted upon the defensive. The Assembly was rancorous against France in the midst of this destruction, and effaced from behind the Speaker’s chair the motto “Vive la Nation, la Loi, et le Roi!” Even when destruction was over them they heeded not: their bickerings continued. The negro generals declared that they were fighting for their King, and against slavery — for a rumor had reached them that Louis favored emancipation. They had the strongest party and the strongest side. At length the whites determined upon a war of extermination. The blacks responded. Heads of whites were stuck on poles around the negro camps. Bodies of negroes swung on gibbets in the white encampments and on trees by the roadside. Within two months two thousand whites and ten thousand blacks perished. Te Deum was sung in both camps and daily thanksgivings were said for what was done. Pale ghosts hovered over them and sighed in the tropical groves; but they could not speak for pity or for justice. The insurrection spread to the southwest, and two thousand mulattoes, headed by Rigaud, rose to revenge the death of some of their comrades; many negroes joined them and they threatened Port au Prince. The colonists were now thoroughly alarmed, and proceeded to try reconciliation. The inhabitants of Port au Prince and Rigaud agreed upon a truce, and the whites admitted that the slaughter of certain mulattoes had been “infamous,” and agreed that the civil rights of the mulattoes should be allowed them. At last! Was it not too late?
Governor Blanchelande issued a proclamation earnestly entreating the revolted negroes to lay down their arms and return to their duty. It was too late. They laughed in derision at his small request. What! to slavery and work and degradation and cruelty, even! They had burst their fetters and stood with arms in their hands. “Will you,” they replied to the Governor, “will you, brave General, that we should, like sheep, throw ourselves into the jaws of the wolf? It is too late. It is for us to conquer or die!”
On September 11, 1791, the whites at Port au Prince had consented to the civil rights of the mulattoes. On October 23d the Concordat had been signed; the whites and mulattoes had walked arm in arm through the city and peace seemed possible, when word came that on September 24th the National Assembly at Paris had reversed the decree of May 15th. The mulattoes at once flew to arms, and the struggle between them and the whites went on with increased carnage and cruelty. This continued with varied results through 1792. “You kill mine and I’ll kill yours,” was the cry. As it had been from the outset, so it continued among the whites: open war between the colonists and the governors; between the people of the North and the South; contention and bitterness, intrigue, treachery. They made head nowhere against the mulattoes; nowhere against the negroes. In December, 1791, three commissioners arrived from France to distract the confusion. They accomplished nothing, and were succeeded in September, 1792, by Santhonax, Polverel, and Ailhaud, ordinary men; not sufficient for so extraordinary a state of things as this.
The hour had come, but not the man. The world waited for him, but none knew where to look; for none believed him to be among the degraded negroes. The old custom of master and slave was broken in pieces, and a nation of men, with no cultivation, with no education in self-government, with none of the conservative strength which hangs about privilege and possession and long-honored habit, were now up, inspired only with a hatred of slavery and vague aspirations for that which they knew not how to name. In this chaotic hour the man who could express this longing for freedom, this need of growth, this aspiration for infinite good — not only in words, but in deeds and in life — was needed: without him all would come to nothing, and the struggle of the blacks would be but a spasm, to end in exhaustion and discouragement; for successful revolutions have been secured by developing, from among the unknown, the known man, around whom the elements of the new state could gather for new order.
Among the half-million blacks there must be one, and more than one, who could redeem his race; to whom the outcast and despairing might look and take courage and say, “Such as he is, I may try to be.” This man was longed for; consciously or not, the blacks yearned for their king, could they but see him. The presentiment existed, for had not the Abbé Raynal long before predicted a vindicator for the race? No man can save another, and no nation. Each race must look for its salvation and its leaders in its own comprehensive soul. The Moses who will lead the blacks out of bondage must be a black, and he will come!
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