Missed Opportunities: Haiti after Independence (1804–1915)
On January 1, 1804, a few weeks after the last French troops left Saint-Domingue, the victorious black and mulatto officers gathered in Gonaïves to declare their nation’s independence. This was a time for celebration, but also for revenge. Half of the country’s population had died in the previous thirteen years of fighting. The year before, as the war neared its fateful end, Rochambeau had unleashed a whirlwind of tortures and mass executions that had left a vivid imprint in the founding fathers’ minds. So strong was the hatred of everything French that the country’s name, Saint-Domingue, was abandoned and replaced with its precolonial, Taino forebear: Haiti. The new country’s flag consisted of a French tricolor whose central white strip had been torn apart and the blue and red stitched back together. Independent Haiti, symbolically at least, would be a country without whites. One of the officers present, Louis Boisrond-Tonnerre, was so incensed at the French that he dismissed the first draft of the declaration of independence as too mellow, famously erupting that “we should use the skin of a white man as a parchment, his skull as an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen.”1 These were words that Haiti’s first dictator, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, could understand. In his address to the nation, he lashed at the former colonial power and made public the dreadful plan he had conceived.
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- 1.Quoted in Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004 ), 298.Google Scholar