The Haitian Revolution was a monumental event in the history of the Atlantic World. For only the second time in history, a colony had revolted against their mother country to form an independent nation. With Haiti, this was especially unique due to the fact that the revolution resulted from a slave population overthrowing their oppressors and winning their freedom in addition to their political independence. By the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, the French colony of Saint Domingue was the most valuable colony in the Atlantic World. According to David Geggus, Saint Domingue accounted "for some 40 percent of France's foreign trade, its 7,000 or so plantations were absorbing by 1790 also 10-15 percent of United States exports and had important commercial links with the British and Spanish West Indies as well ¬Ě (Geggus 1982, p. 6). In the years prior to the start of the revolution, Saint Domingue was a colony of international renown and prestige. Considering the value of the colony, its loss was a tremendous blow to the French.
The causes of the revolution are a complex web of interwoven events and relationships. On the surface it would be easy enough to place the cause squarely on the shoulders of the institution of slavery itself as the main reason for revolution. It is well known that slavery was a brutal, oppressive institution that was frequently plagued with resistance and rebellion. But the fact that no other slave uprising ever resulted in the formation of a separate nation with slavery being overthrown by those enslaved leads to the obvious conclusion that it had to have been more than slavery itself that caused the revolution. To begin to understand how the revolution happened, it is necessary to look at the class structure that existed in the years before the revolution broke out in 1791 and how this structure created an atmosphere conducive to revolution.
By 1789, there were four distinct g... Continue Reading