Page:Haiti- Her History and Her Detractors.djvu/73
Liberal Measures in Behalf of the Slaves
lost a great deal of its importance. Therefore it became necessary to take more liberal measures. On August 21 Polvérel ordered that all persons found guilty of specified crimes would forfeit their movable and landed property. And on August 27 he issued a decree stating first that the Africans or their descendants who would remain on or return to the plantations considered vacant would become free and would enjoy all the rights exercised by the French citizens, provided they agreed to work on the said plantations; secondly, that all the vacant plantations of the West would belong in common to those inhabitants of the province who had borne arms for the French and to the cultivators of those plantations; thirdly, that (first) all the rebellious blacks who would reinstate or help to reinstate the Republic in the possession of the territory occupied by its enemies, all those who would swear allegiance to the Republic and fight for it, (secondly) all the Spaniards, all the revolted Africans, either maroons or independent, who would facilitate the conquest of the Spanish portion of the island—all these would benefit by the partition that would be made of the vacant plantations; and, fourthly, that all real estate belonging to the Spanish Government, to the nobles, to the friars and priests would be distributed among the warriors and cultivators.
Polvérel boldly asserted the principle of the dispossession of the colonists in behalf of the slaves; yet he abstained from saying the words so eagerly desired by them—general freedom. However, circumstances had made such a step unavoidable. In the North important events were occurring daily. On August 25 a white man, Gr. H. Vergniaud, seneschal at Cap-Français, had presented a petition to Sonthonax in which the full measure of justice was requested. The situation was very critical; the assistance of the blacks was indispensable in order to check the progress of the Spaniards. Sonthonax hesitated no longer; he proclaimed general freedom. His decree of August 29 restored at last to human dignity thousands of men who for cen-