While the revolutions in colonial America and Haiti had many parallels, they were also unique in their own ways. In both revolutions, the rebels revolted against a foreign superpower that was in a weakened economic state in order to gain economic and social freedom. However, the Haiti revolution stressed freedom for everybody (including slaves), whereas the American Revolution focused more on the needs of the Bourgeois, or middle class.
The revolutions in both of these countries would have been unsuccessful were it not for the crippling problems faced by both opposing superpowers. The success of the Haitian revolution was due in no small part to the political turmoil brought about by the French revolution. This weakened the ability of the colonial administrators in Haiti to maintain order and caused the authority of colonial officials to no longer be clear; even the very legitimacy of slavery was even being challenged in France. The turmoil in France and Haiti paved the way for a struggle between the elite plantation owners and the free black slave owners. This fighting in turn gave the slaves, under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the unheard of opportunity to revolt against their owners and emancipate themselves from a brutal system of bondage (Corbet).
The revolution in the Americans was against its mother country, Great Britain, and unlike Haiti, the British army was in full force when war broke. There were, however, economic weaknesses that led to the inevitable revolution against Britain. Britain was burdened by debts from the French and Indian War, and therefore taxed the colonies substantially to make up for this.
The ideologies of the revolutions in both Haiti and America were very similar. In America, philosophers such as Thomas Paine and John Locke preached social and economic freedom. Thomas Paine writes, “And he hath shown himself such an inveterate enemy to liberty, and discovered such a thirst for arbitrary power, is he, or is he not, a proper person to say to these colonies, ‘you shall make no laws but what I please!'” (Overfield, 198). This represents the opinion of many revolutionaries: that they should be allowed to rule on their own and not be taxed and forced into things by a ruler thousands of miles away. Also, these philosophers believed in the idea of unalienable rights for men.
The Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be [sacred and undeniable] self evident, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and inalienables, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Maier). The colonists believed that everyone with land should have a chance to pursue happiness, and that the British monarchy wasn’t allowing them this freedom. They also proclaimed that taxation without representation was a denial of the rights they deserved.
The bourgeois class brought up this claim to get more economical freedom and rights. Acts passed by the Parliament such as the Stamp Act limited the economic potential of this middle class. Thomas Paine talked of how no immigrants would move to the colonies of the government was not allowed to be independent and thrive (Overfield, 198). Although this would help the middle class gain more money and thrive, the lower class including the slaves would be unaffected. These slaves were not to be given any rights or improvements from their previous lifestyle.
In Haiti before the revolution, slaves also had no rights or say in their lives. With France’s being in a state of turmoil, a window opened for a chance to rid of their masters and grasp a life unheard of to slaves of this era. All they needed was a leader: someone to bring them together and unite them in this noble cause, and for them, this man was Toussaint L’Ouverture. With the slave owners fighting and in disarray, the slaves rose up and fought hard for a better life. L’Ouverture might have grasped the idea of economic independence, but the slaves’ only goal was social freedom. Many fought to the death because they welcomed death as a change from the terrible lives they had been living. This revolution was to give inalienable rights to all, including slaves, instead of just to the bourgeois class as had been done in America.
In the Haitian revolution, the slaves revolted against the wealthy plantation owners. Details of these events are shown with illustrations that were created from British admirer Marcus Rainsford’s own sketches. Rainsford depicted him through his portraits almost as if he were a deity – “a countenance bold and striking, yet full of the most prepossessing suavity – terrible to an enemy, but inviting to the objects of his friendship or his love.” The rebellious slaves eventually gained the upper hand under the leadership of L’Ouverture (Rainsford).
L’Ouverture then led an invasion of neighboring Saint Domingo where he continued to liberate slaves. In 1802, Napoleon, the leader of France, sent a large military force and fought the rebel forces. The resistance persisted, and the slaves eventually gained independence by defeating Napoleon. L’Ouverture was captured and sent to France, where he died in prison. One might wonder what he was thinking as when he was there. A letter, or a journal written by him might provide insight into the mind of this influential revolutionary.
The American Revolution started with boycotts to repeal unjust measures such as the Stamp Act. These passions intensified into riots, which were portrayed in the Boston Tea Party, where rebels dumped 10,000 pounds of tea into the river to protest high tea taxes. The Boston Massacre also incited hatred towards the King of Britain, King George III (Middlekauff 712). All these factors escalated and came to a climax when war was declared against the British. In the early stages of the revolution, minutemen, ordinary colonists, were used in the battles. Eventually, strong military leaders organized the colonists into a fighting machine and the colonists were able to surround the British at Yorktown, thus gaining their independence
Corbett, Bob. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803. 21 Mar. 2001. Webster University.
Maier, Pauline. American Scripture – Making the Declaration of Independence.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Jefferson, Thomas. The Declaration of Independence. Maier 235-241.
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Vol. II
of the Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982.
Overfield, Andrea. The Human Record – Sources of Global History. Vol. 2.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. Overfield 194-198.
Rainsford, Marcus. An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending
a View of the Pricipal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint Domingo; With its Ancient and Modern State. London: James Cundee, 1803.