Race and the Haitian Constitution of 1805

I wrote a post for Unique at Penn about the Spanish ms copy of Haiti’s 1805 Imperial Constitution recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries!

Here it is!

At the heart of the Age of Revolutions were complex debates about individual and collective identity. While the American and French experiences focused on the meaning of concepts like liberty and fraternity within dominant cultures, Haiti’s Declaration of Independence on January 1, 1804 set the stage for intense and enduring controversy about racialized definitions of civic membership. Prior to the world’s only slave revolution, the French colony had been the most profitable in the world because about 465,000 enslaved men and women labored on sugar, coffee, and indigo plantations and in the houses of their masters as well as in Saint-Domingue’s port cities. The free population of the colony (about half white and have free people of color) was only about 60,000. Few white people remained in the colony after the Declaration of Independence. Because of this and because of the fact that the country’s leadership was either black or mixed race, Haiti was often referred to as “the black republic” (even when it was not a republic) [1].

The Haitian Declaration of Independence proclaimed the “state of Hayti,” rather than a republic, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared himself emperor (Jacques 1er d’Hayti) of the Empire of Hayti in October 1804. The 1805 constitution is therefore an imperial constitution. After Dessalines’s death in 1806, the country divided in civil war with a republic in the South and “the state of Hayti,” in the North. Henry Christophe, the president of the northern part of Haiti, soon proclaimed the Kingdom of Haiti and took the title King Henry of Haiti. The country was reunited in 1820 under the republican constitution of the south.

"Black Republic of St. Domingo," Farmer's Cabinet, Amherst, New Hampshire, 10 April 1804, page 3.

“Black Republic of St. Domingo,” Farmer’s Cabinet, Amherst, New Hampshire, 10 April 1804, page 3.

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