The Revolution wrecked Haiti’s economy because it challenged the world as it was then. Slavery was the heart of a thriving system of merchant capitalism that profited Europe, devastated Africa, and propelled the expansion of the Americas. Independent Haiti had few friends. All the world’s powers sided with France against the self-proclaimed Black Republic which declared it a haven for runaway slaves. Hemmed in by slave colonies, Haiti had only one non-colonized neighbor, the slaveholding United States; which refused to recognize Haiti’s independence for decades.
The Haitian Revolution of 1789-1803 transformed French Saint Domingue, one of the most productive European colonies of its day, into an independent state run by former slaves and the descendants of slaves It produced the world’s first examples of wholesale emancipation in a major slaveowning society, of colonial representation in a metropolitan assembly, and of full racial equality in a European colony. It occurred when the Atlantic slave trade was at its peak, and when slavery was an accepted institution from Canada to Chile.
The slave revolt that between 1791 and 1793 laid waste the immensely wealthy colony was probably the largest and sole fully successful one there has ever been. Of all American struggles for colonial independence, the Haitian Revolution involved the greatest degree of mass mobilization, and brought the greatest degree of social and economic change. In an age of tumultuous events and world war, it seized international attention with images of apocalyptic destruction and of a new world in the making. The Black Jacobins by Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James remains, although written in the 1930s, the best introduction to the subject.
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