One of the key moments in the spread of the Atlantic revolutions to Latin America and the Caribbean was the Haitian Rebellion (1791-1804)

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The Haitian Rebellion:

  • One of the key moments in the spread of the Atlantic revolutions to Latin America and the Caribbean was the Haitian Rebellion (1791-1804).

  • It was the only large-scale slave revolt to succeed in the New World.

  • The Haitian Rebellion was inspired in large part by the American Revolution and caused directly by events related to the French Revolution.

  • The island of Haiti, known as Santo Domingo, had been colonized by the Spanish and the French.

  • Each ruled half of the island, whose economy was based mainly on sugar production.

  • The French half was populated by a mix of French colonists, Creoles (those of French descent, but born in the colonies), free blacks (known as gens de coleur), and over half a million black slaves.

  • When the French Revolution began in 1789, it threw French Haiti into chaos, mainly because the white colonists and freed blacks, all of whom competed over Haiti’s sugar economy, quarreled.

  • In 1791, the slaves of Haiti seized this opportunity to rebel.

  • By 1793, the leader of the Haitian Rebellion was François Toussaint L'Ouverture, often referred to as the “Black Washington.”

  • Although a slave, L’Ouverture was literate and well-read.

  • He was also a talented military commander who won victory after victory.

  • By 1798, he had not only freed all the slaves in French Haiti, but he had crossed into Spanish-controlled Santo Domingo and liberated the blacks there as well.

  • At this point, L’Ouverture hoped to make of Haiti a country for free blacks. It would be friendly to France, but also independent.

  • Unfortunately for L’Ouverture, the French government had no intention of allowing Haiti to go free.

  • Over the next four years, the French debated the Haitian question.

  • Then, in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had, in 1799, become leader of France, decided to send troops to Haiti to retake it for the home country.

  • Ironically, while a young officer in France’s revolutionary army, Napoleon, had been a great admirer of L’Ouverture, but now the two men were political enemies.

  • The French managed to capture L’Ouverture, who was put in chains and sent back to France, where he died in prison.

  • However, the French failed to conquer Haiti.

  • Unused to fighting in tropical conditions, the French could not quell the Haitian rebels.

  • Moreover, yellow fever killed over 40,000 French troops.

  • Finally, in 1804, Napoleon decided to give up the effort to reconquer Haiti.

  • The French went home in disgrace, and the independent nation of Haiti was born.

  • The Haitian Rebellion had the effect of helping to inspire rebellion elsewhere in Latin America.

  • It also had one other far-reaching geopolitical impact.

  • Because of his frustration with the fighting in Haiti, Napoleon chose to abandon the effort to maintain major French colonies in the New World.

  • Up to this point, France had been the master of a vast part of central North America: the large territory known as Louisiana, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Delta.

  • In 1803, Napoleon, seeking to rid himself of this territory, sold it at a bargain price to the United States.

  • President Thomas Jefferson accepted the offer eagerly.

  • Unlike Napoleon, he recognized that the Louisiana Purchase would give the United States control of the North American continent, and with it, the opportunity to become a truly powerful nation.

  • By helping to convince Napoleon to sell Louisiana, the Haitian Rebellion played a part in bringing about a major shift in global power.

The Causes of Latin America’s Wars of Independence:

  • Not long ager the Haitian Rebellion, revolution spread to virtually all of Latin America.

  • From 1810 to 1825, Mexico, Central America, and South America gained their independence from Spain and Portugal.

  • As with the American Revolution, reasons for the Latin American uprisings included a growing sense of national identity and local resentment of Spanish and Portuguese economic policies.

  • Also important was the frustration that the European-descended, or criollo (“creole”), upper and middle classes felt toward the rigid social hierarchy of Latin American societies, which prevented them from realizing their goal of upward social and economic mobility.

  • Even before the revolutions began, tensions were brewing.

  • The spark that set off the Latin American revolutions was lit back in Europe, by Napoleon.

  • As part of his campaign of European conquest, Napoleon invaded Portugal and Spain in 1807 to 1809.

  • He toppled the royal governments there and put his own representatives, including his brother, in charge.

  • The Spanish king was placed under house arrest, while the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil.

  • These sudden blows to the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies had a swift and profound impact on Latin American politics.

  • Brazil’s transition to independence was relatively smooth.

  • Spain’s Latin American possessions, however, rose up in rebellion.

Brazilian Independence:

  • The decision to free Brazil came from above, rather than below,

  • In 1820, the King of Portugal returned to Portugal to reclaim throne.

  • He left his son, Prince Pedro, as regent but told his son to make sure that if Brazilians demanded independence that he proclaim itHe did in 1822 Brazil became a constitutional monarchy.


By William Wordsworth
TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den;
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.

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