Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors/Part I: Chapter VIII

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Administrative measures taken by Toussaint Louverture—Occupation of the Spanish portion of the island—Meeting of the Central Assembly—Constitution of Saint-Domingue—Toussaint Louverture elected Governor-General—The French expedition—The "Crète-à-Pierrot"—Deportation of Rigaud—Surrender of Toussaint Louverture—His arrest and deportation—His death at Fort de Joux.

Confident of the success of his campaign against Rigaud, Toussaint Louverture had no longer any purpose to serve in treating Roume with deference. The Commander-in-Chief requested the dismissal of General Kerverseau, then at Santo Domingo, which request the Agent refused to grant. Toussaint then called to mind that the Treaty of Bâle had given the Spanish portion of the island to France; he demanded the authorization for taking possession of it. Roume's new refusal increased his displeasure. From Port-au-Prince he summoned the Agent of the Directory to come and confer with him. The latter declined to leave Cap-Français; at the same time he ordered the expulsion of the English emissaries who were in the colony. On March 4, 1800, he wrote to Toussaint, instructing him to carry out his order. One of these English emissaries, Mr. Wrigloworth, was at that time with Toussaint. The latter, offended by the tone of the Agent's letter, left for Gonaives. His nephew, Moise, and other military commanders began to stir up the country people. The rebels marched to Cap-Français, where they requested an interview with Roume and the municipality, threatening to invade the town should they fail to comply with their request. Roume went to meet them. The peasants demanded that half of the lands of the colonists being granted to them, they should be allowed to work in their own behalf; and a decree authorizing the taking possession of the Spanish portion of the island. Upon the refusal of the representative of France to accede to these demands, he was unceremoniously locked up in a poultry-house. They sent for Toussaint, who, however, showed no hurry in taking part in the matter. At last he arrived on April 27, 1800. Taking advantage of Roume's sad plight, he extorted from him the decree authorizing the occupation of the Spanish portion of Saint-Domingue. He intrusted this mission to General Agé, who failed to carry it out; the strong opposition of the Spanish authorities and inhabitants compelled him to leave Santo Domingo.

Until the right time should come for the realization of his plans, Toussaint was carrying on the legislation without paying the slightest heed to the representative of France. He made regulations concerning, 1st, the collection by the Treasury of the income yielded by lands the owners of which were absent; 2d, the postal service; 3d, the administration of the Navy. He took strong measures with the view of preventing any disturbance of public order. He knew by personal experience how to stir up the people. It was by means of nocturnal dances and ceremonies, which the frightened colonists indiscriminately called "vaudoux"; by means of these secret meetings it was that conspiracies were plotted. To influence the uncultured slaves, the leaders had to resort to the supernatural, even going so far as making them believe that they were invulnerable. What is designated as "vaudoux" might be considered as a kind of politico-mystical association which the most enlightened among the blacks very cleverly used to attain their ends. The resolutions adopted, the watchwords were scrupulously obeyed by the members of the sect. Toussaint was better aware than any one what an easy matter it was to disturb the peace through the practice of such an institution; for he was one of the instigators of the slaves' uprising and a witness of the ceremony at which Boukmann administered "the oath of blood" on the entrails of a wild boar. In consequence, on January 8, 1800, he issued a decree prohibiting, under severe penalty, all kinds of nocturnal dances and meetings, especially the dance designated as "vaudoux." The preambles of this decree show that Toussaint considered "vaudoux" rather as a political sect " Fully convinced," says he, "that the leaders of these dances have but one aim: the disturbance of the peace, … wishing to put a stop to the innumerable evils resulting from the practice of a doctrine which creates disorder and idleness—I order the following: All nocturnal dances and meetings are henceforth prohibited. …[1]

The arrival in the colony of Major-Generals Mitchel, Raymond, and Vincent, sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, then first Consul, did not put an end to the encroachments of Toussaint Louverture. In the Southern province he established four military arrondissements: Cayes, Tiburon, Jérémie, and L'Anse-à-Veau. He appointed Dessalines major-general and invested him with the command of the Western and Southern provinces; Moise was given the command of the North. By decrees he conferred correctional jurisdiction on the civil tribunals; he organized courts martial. On October 12, 1800, he adopted a regulation concerning agriculture—the cultivators were subjected to a severe discipline; they were not allowed to leave the plantations to which they belonged, even should they be able to secure better wages elsewhere. He instituted a guard of honor in which former noblemen of the colony were enlisted.

The wealthy planters of Saint-Domingue once more held office; they were appointed judges; they secured good positions in the administration. Therefore they were all one in sympathy with Toussaint Louverture. And when, on November 25, 1800, he made his triumphal entrance into Cap-Français these men who, some years ago in their pride, had shown such contempt for the blacks and the mulattoes were again at his feet. A white woman compared him to Bonaparte and placed on his head a crown of laurel leaves. Toussaint Louverture acknowledged the compliment by kissing her. At the municipality he was called "Hercules," "Alexander the Great," etc.

None of these flatteries could make him forget that Roume had defied him by cancelling the decree authorizing the occupation of the Spanish portion of Saint-Domingue. The day after his arrival at Cap-Français, on November 26, he ordered that the representative of France be relegated to Dondon until he should be recalled. General Moise was commissioned to carry out this order. At this juncture Toussaint began to feel uneasy concerning Bonaparte's attitude. Consequently he preferred to keep Roume at Saint-Domingue rather than send him to France. And in order to prevent the first Consul from being informed of the events which were taking place in the colony, he decided that in future he alone should sign the passports of those who wished to go abroad. Any persons who left the island without his permission forfeited their properties.

With a view of increasing his resources, Toussaint Louverture repealed by an act of December 12, 1800, the taxes on the plantations which were hitherto payable in natural products of the soil, and ordered that all commodities and merchandise exported from or imported into the colony be subjected to a duty of 20 per cent. A tax of 20 per cent was also levied on the renting value of all houses, on the value of all articles for home consumption. Custom-houses were thus established.

However, at the request of the Consul-General of the United States, Mr. Edward Stevens, whose assistance had been most valuable to him during the campaign against Rigaud, Toussaint, on December 31, reduced the import duties to 10 per cent.

The Decree of December 12 emphasized the attitude of independence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Saint-Domingue. All merchandise, without exception, had to pay the import tax; French goods were therefore to be treated as foreign products. With his usual perspicacity Toussaint foresaw that Bonaparte would not forgive his encroachments as easily as the Directory. A conflict was inevitable; for he was determined in his resolution not to acknowledge any authority superior to his in Saint-Domingue. Not wishing to leave any place which would act as a base of operations to the forces which would be sent against him, he persisted in his idea of occupying the Spanish portion of the island. On December 20, 1800, he gave notice to Don Joachim Garcia that General Moise had been empowered to execute the treaty of Bâle by taking possession of that portion of the colony which had been transferred to France. Without awaiting an answer he despatched an army against the Spaniards. Whilst Moise invaded the former Spanish territory, by crossing the Massacre River, Toussaint, on January 4, 1801, occupied San Juan de la Maguana. On January 14 he had reached the banks of the Nisas near to Bani, where a battle was fought in which the Spanish were defeated; yet France and Spain were at peace. Further resistance on the part of the Spanish was useless. Toussaint had the satisfaction of seeing his former chief, Don Joachim Garcia, entirely at his mercy. The black General was destined to humble all those who had thought of using him as a tool. On January 21, 1801, a convention was signed at Jayna for the surrender of Santo Domingo; and on the 28th Toussaint made a triumphal entrance into the town, where the traditional Te Deum was sung in the church.

Toussaint did his utmost to win over the sympathy of his new fellow-citizens. In order to increase the trade he reduced the import duties to 6 per cent; he ordered the cultivation of sugar-cane, coffee, cotton, cocoa; he repaired and bettered the highways, which the Spanish had kept in very bad condition.

The organization of the newly acquired territory did not prevent him from giving his attention to the general administration of the island. On January 9 he decreed stamp and registry dues; on January 10 he established license taxes. On February 11 he instituted a company of gendarmerie for every one of the communes of the colony. This gendarmerie had the special mission of supervising the cultivators.

Whilst imposing the severest discipline on the men of his race, Toussaint did his best to gain the sympathy of the colonists, thinking by so doing to lull France's suspicions. Therefore he facilitated the return to Saint-Domingue of the wealthy planters who had thought it best to leave the island; all properties were restored to their former owners, and he bestowed his entire protection on the whites. He firmly believed that by his kindness he had secured their gratitude. In this he was mistaken and his reasoning proved groundless. The colonists were simply taking advantage of the situation. They coaxed and flattered Toussaint Louverture, but in reality they felt humiliated to have to bow down before a black man, before one of those slaves whom they had been hitherto accustomed to regard as no better than animals. So for the time being they endured the situation until the right moment should arrive to make the change they desired; and meanwhile they were highly pleased with a system so beneficial to them. And they thought that the time was fast approaching for the realization of their long-standing wish to be the legislators of the colony. Toussaint knew that his rights were precarious; an order of the first Consul might at any moment deprive him of his exalted position. Therefore he felt the necessity of obtaining the support of the people with a view of justifying his usurpation of power.

Both sides were then in full accord as to disregarding France's prerogatives. In consequence, by a proclamation of February 5, 1801, Toussaint Louverture ordered the meeting at Port-Républicain (Port-au-Prince) of a Central Assembly consisting of ten members.

After the elections had taken place he arrived in the town, where he was accorded a most flattering welcome; the streets through which he passed were strewn with flowers; bells were rung and cannon fired in his honor, He conferred with the Deputies and afterward returned to Cap-Français in order not to be charged with influencing the decisions of the Assembly.[2]

Whilst the body assembled on March 22, 1801, after electing Borgella as its chairman, was occupied in preparing the Constitution, Toussaint, with his usual activity, continued, at Cap-Français, to legislate in the interest of the colony. By a Decree of May 8 he reduced to 6 per cent the duties on biscuits, flour, salt, provisions, and building timber; he adopted a uniform tariff for the custom-houses. By an act of May 9 he prohibited gambling; civil or military officials found in a gambling-house were to be dismissed and sentenced to one month's imprisonment; private citizens were liable to four months' imprisonment with hard labor.

The Constitution[3] intended to be observed in Saint-Domingue was adopted on the 9th of May, 1801. Toussaint Louverture was appointed Governor-General for life, with the right to choose his successor. He was empowered to fill all vacancies in civil and military offices, and held chief command in the Army. The Governor was authorized to submit to the Assembly the drafts of laws pertaining to the colony. After Toussaint's death the term of office for the Governors was to be five years; and in case of death or resignation of

  1. B. Ardouin, Studies on Haitian History, Vol. IV, p. 154.
    The colonists, from whom the slaves carefully concealed their plans, could never succeed in getting an accurate knowledge of what "vaudoux" was in reality. This secret association was the most powerful weapon of the defenseless blacks. They were thus able not only to plot uprisings, but also to warn each other of any dangers which threatened them. The secrecy observed by those who took part in "vaudoux" gave rise to many legends; and up to the present time foreigners of more or less good faith affirm that "vaudoux" is the religion of the majority of the Haytians. Those who would care to have full information on the matter may read the interesting: book of Mr. Hannibal Price, "Rehabilitation of the Black Race through the Republic of Haiti."
  2. The Central Assembly consisted of Bernard Borgella and Lacour as members for the West; Etienne Viart and Julien Raymond for the South; Collet and Gaston Nogéré for the South; Juan Mancebo and Francisco Morillas for Engano; Carlos Roxas and Andre Munoz for Samana.
  3. Louis-Joseph Janvier, The Constitutions of Haiti.