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“An Indelible Stain”: Slavery and the Colonial Enlightenment

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)

Abstract

Writing of the need to preserve strict legal segregation and white supremacy in the colonial Caribbean, the jurist Michel-René Hilliard d’Auberteuil declared that “self-interest and security demand that we burden the black race with such great scorn that whoever descends from it, down to the sixth generation, be covered by an indelible stain.”1 To the eyes of some contemporary critics, however, it is the French Enlightenment’s own alleged indifference to the moral outrage of slavery that casts an “indelible stain” on its legacy. Louis Sala-Molins has declared that “the crucial test for the Enlightenment is the slave trade and slavery,”2 while Michèle Duchet has denounced the “myth of the anti-colonialism of the philosophes,” arguing that their halfhearted reformism merely “contributed to the maintenance of the established order.”3 On the other hand, Jean Ehrard has sought to defend the philosophes against charges of complicity in slavery, arguing instead that, while they did not have the power to free the slaves, their works made possible the rise of an antislavery movement in the final years of the Old Regime.4

Keywords

Eighteenth Century French Society Slave Trade Free Labor African Slave 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    Louis Sala-Molins, Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment, trans. John Conteh-Morgan, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 8–9.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Michèle Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières (Paris: François Maspéro, 1971), 18.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Jean Ehrard, Lumières et esclavage: L’esclavage colonial et l’opinion publique en France au XVIIIe siècle (Brussels: André Versaille, 2008), 214.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Philip P. Boucher, France and the American Tropics to 1700: Tropics of Discontent? (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 116.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    John Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 9.
    Doris Garraway, The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Caribbean (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 10.
    For an extensive survey of white colonial society and the “patriot” movement, see Charles Frostin, Les revoltes blanches à Saint-Domingue au XVIIe etXVIIIe siècles (Paris: Editions de l’Ecole, 1975).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Montesquieu , The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Anne Cohler, et.al. (1749, repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 250.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Voltaire , “Candide, or Optimism,” [1759], in The Portable Voltaire, ed. Ben Ray Redman (New York: The Viking Portable Library, 1977), 282.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social (1762; repr., Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1963), 50, 55–59.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    Sue Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 96.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Voltaire , Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations, (1756; repr., Paris: Gamier Frères, 1963), 2:805.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Malick Ghachem, Sovereignty and Slavery in the Age of Revolution: Haitian Variations on a Metropolitan Theme (Stanford University Dissertation, 2001), xxv.Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, Essai sur l’administration de Saint-Domingue (n. p., 1785), 5. There are numerous and extensive passages in Raynal’s Essai sur l’administration de Saint-Domingue and Malouet’s Mémoire sur l’esclavage that are virtually identical. Although Raynal’s text was published three years before Malouet’s, it seems far more likely that Raynal, who employed a legion of ghostwriters and borrowed heavily from other works without attribution, should have copied Malouet’s unpublished manuscript, rather than the other way around. Raynal wrote his Essai sur l’administration de Saint-Domingue while a guest at Malouet’s home in Toulon, and undoubtedly drew heavily upon his host’s experience as an official in that colony. Malick Ghachem credits Malouet as the true author of Raynal’s Essai, while Girolamo Imbruglia writes that it was “surely a work if not written, at least envisioned in common.” Girolamo Imbruglia, “Da Raynal a Burke. Il tradizionalismo philosophique di Malouet e il 1789,” Studi Settecenteschi 10 (1987), 108.Google Scholar
  15. See also Anatole Feugère, Un précurseur de la Révolution: l’abbé Raynal, 1713–1796 (1922; repr., Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1970).Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Alexandre-Stanislas de Wimpffen, Haïti au XVIIIe siècle : Richesse et esclavage dans une colonie française, ed. Pierre Pluchon (1797; repr., Paris: Editions Karthala, 1993), 75. This work was originally published under the title Voyage à Saint-Domingue, pendant les années 1788, 1789, 1790.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Justin Girod de Chantrans, Voyage d’un Suisse dans les colonies d’Amérique, ed. Pierre Pluchon (1785; repr., Paris: Librairie Jules Tallandier, 1980), 174.Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    On this point, see Médéric-Louis-Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description topographique, physique, civile, politique, et historique de la partie française de disle Saint-Domingue, ed. Blanche Maurel and Etienne Taillemite (1797; repr., Paris: Société de l’Histoire des Colonies Françaises, 1958), 58–59; and Girod deChantrans, Voyage d’un Suisse, 134. For estimates of the death rates of slaves in the Caribbean, see Hilliard d’Auberteuil, Considérations, 1:54; and Ghachem, Sovereignty, 20.Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    Pierre-Victor Malouet, Mémoire sur l’esclavage des nègres (Neufchâtel, 1788), 94, 10. For the Kourou tragedy, see Emma Rothschild, “A Horrible Tragedy in the French Atlantic,” Past and Present 192 (August 2006), 67–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 39.
    On this point, see Garrigus, Before Haiti; and Garraway, Libertine Colony; as well as Gene Ogle, “‘The Eternal Power of Reason’ and ‘The Superiority of Whites’: Hilliard d’Auberteuil’s Colonial Enlightenment,” French Colonial History 3 (2003); and Stewart King, Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  21. 46.
    King, Description topographique, 159; William Max Nelson, “Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering,” American Historical Review 115:5 (December 2010), 1364–1394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 54.
    Pierre Boulle, Race et esclavage dans la France de l’Ancien Régime (Paris: Perrin, 2007), 28.Google Scholar
  23. 70.
    On the Baron de Bessner, see Duchet, Anthropologie, 154; Ghachem, Sovereignty, 143; and Pierre-Victor Malouet, Mémoires de Malouet (Paris: Plon, 1874), 76–84.Google Scholar
  24. 86.
    Dupont de Nemours, cited in Yves Benot, Diderot, de l’athéisme à l’anticolonialisme (Paris: François Maspero, 1981), 157.Google Scholar
  25. 87.
    Carl Ludwig Lokke, France and the Colonial Question: A Study of Contemporary French Opinion, 1763–1801 (1932; repr., New York: AMS, 1968), 177.Google Scholar

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© David Allen Harvey 2012

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