Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors/Part II: Chapter V
Origin of the calumnies against Haiti—Unsympathetic attitude of the foreign Powers toward her: Great Britain, Spain, France and the United States—Even Simon Bolivar forgot the help rendered him by Haiti—Germany—Conditions in Haiti at the time of her independence—Difference between these conditions and those of the United States at the time when they severed their relations with Great Britain—Civil wars in Haiti as compared with those of Germany, Great Britain, and France—Some of the causes of civil strife in Haiti.
To fully appreciate the origin of the unceasing and persistent calumnies of which Haiti has been made the target, one must go back to the very first days of her existence and call to mind the circumstances under which she started life as an independent country.
When in 1804 Haiti was so bold as to proclaim the abolition of slavery all the countries where this inhuman practise was still in favor were inclined to consider her attitude as somewhat of a challenge; consequently, they deemed fit to take such steps as to enable them the better to protect a system the abolition of which, according to the opinion of the civilized world of that time, would cause the greatest calamities. By rising up against their masters and in revealing themselves on the battlefields their equals in courage, the slaves of Saint-Domingue had committed what was to the minds of the partisans of slavery an unpardonable crime, rendered all the more monstrous as the Haitians, after having dispossessed the whites of their property and becoming in their turn masters of the country, openly declared that any man of the black race upon setting foot on the Haitian soil would be considered as a freedman. They were not satisfied with having cast off their own yoke, they wished also to give some hope to other unfortunate beings who were receiving worse treatment than beasts in those countries where slavery continued to flourish. Such an example was considered highly dangerous; and the partisans of slavery deemed it of the utmost importance to prevent the exploits of the Haitians from becoming known to those whose flesh was still being lacerated by the whips of the overseer. In this way began the slanders against the Haitians, the ridicule and distortion of all facts concerning them succeeding so well as to provoke the greatest aversion at the mere mention of their name. In the United States, in the English, French and Spanish possessions in the West Indies, the whites unscrupulously exaggerated or misrepresented facts, concealing all those to the credit of the new State whilst magnifying beyond measure everything to its disadvantage. It is not to be expected, for instance, that the Southern planters of the United States would be likely to sing the praise of Haiti to their slaves; by force of circumstances such men found themselves among her immediate enemies and consequently joined the ranks of her detractors. Those who would go to the length of resorting to civil war in order to uphold slavery were hardly to be considered enthusiastic admirers of the people who had just abolished this institution. Among the planters naturally arose a chorus of imprecations against Haiti. The bad reputation she thus unjustly acquired was transmitted from generation to generation; legendary stories, some of them of the most atrocious character, were thus diffused and are still in circulation. Few people take the trouble to find out the true facts; either through indifference or indolence they find it more convenient to adopt and repeat preconceived opinions and the ideas current in their families or among their friends; errors and misrepresentations are thus oftentimes unwittingly propagated. Little by little, therefore, it has become the habit to represent Haiti as the home of all evil and where right and virtue are the exception rather than the rule.
Surrounded by Powers to whose greatest interest it was to maintain slavery, Haiti met with no sympathy abroad. Great Britain, although at that time the ruthless enemy of France, could not lose sight of the fact that her subjects in Jamaica and other islands of the West Indies were slave-owners; consequently this new State which, by abolishing slavery, had assumed the part of champion of human dignity, did not enjoy her favor. The noble and unceasing efforts of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Fox, Benton, Brougham, Pitt, and Macaulay succeeded in deciding Parliament in 1833 to abolish slavery, a condition so entirely opposed to the liberal principles of the English people. The emancipation of slaves did away with England's chief cause of distrust against Haiti; nevertheless, there are up to the present time Englishmen who cannot forgive the Haitians for having kept for themselves an island which, in their opinion, ought to be numbered among the British possessions.
The Spaniards likewise could not be expected to be kindly disposed toward the Haitians; they also were slave-owners in Cuba and Porto Rico. Their attitude was most unfriendly; they availed themselves of every opportunity to humiliate the new State. Their disagreement with Haiti concerning the Spanish portion of the island made the position still more delicate.
France, apart from the fear she entertained for the safety of her other colonies in the West Indies, where slavery was abolished only in 1848, could not at the outset be other than unfriendly toward Haiti; she could not easily accept with resignation the loss of one of her most important American possessions. Her long-standing grudge against the Haitians is noticeable in the many books written by or under the influence of former colonists of Saint-Domingue, their descendants or their sympathizers. It need hardly be said that in the first days of her existence Haiti could look for no help or sympathy from France.
Neither could she rely on the United States of America. Their attitude was so irreconcilable that even Simon Bolivar, in order to please them, thought it advisable to overlook the services rendered him by Haiti and the Haitians. Upon summoning the Congress of Panama he, who was personally under the greatest obligation to Pétion and his fellow-citizens, deliberately ignored the people who had helped him, thereby slighting the only nation that had supported him in his struggle for the independence of his country.
The slavery question was unquestionably the principal cause of the ill will of the American people toward Haiti. Since the abolition of this inhuman institution, however, the relations between the two countries have become very cordial; the two nations will esteem each other in proportion as they mutually acquire a fuller knowledge of each other.
As has just been pointed out, Haiti has, without exaggeration, never enjoyed either support, nor even the mere good will of the foreign Powers. The sum of their liberality toward her has only been to overwhelm her with criticisms, reprimands, and threats. But who has ever extended a helping hand to her? Where is the Power which, in the past, has ever rendered her simple justice? Appalling catastrophes have destroyed her cities, decimated her population, and left numberless families starving and shelterless: earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires have inflicted the greatest sufferings on the country. From abroad no word of sympathy was sent to comfort the victims; no one was moved by their trials. However, this indifference to their sufferings has not made the Haitians selfish; in their kind-heartedness they are ever ready to sympathize with the misfortunes of others. Even when undeserved calamities have befallen her, Haiti has never received the sympathy or help of the other nations. Abandoned to her own resources she is, step by step, making steady progress up the ladder of civilization. This progress, though considered slow by many, is worthy of a higher appreciation when one realizes the obstacles she has had to surmount. By extorting heavy and unjust indemnities from her, the foreign Powers themselves have impeded her evolution; for the money she has had to pay solely in order to avoid brutal treatment at the hands of some powerful nations in their support of unscrupulous claimants might have been employed to much advantage for her schools, in the repairing or building of her roads, and the irrigation of her fields.
Prejudice against Haiti is so universal abroad that even certain Powers who, like Germany for instance, had never owned slaves in the West Indies or on the American continent have nevertheless fallen under the influence of this prejudice. Acting probably under the impression made upon her by these slanderous misrepresentations, Germany, at the outset of her relations with Haiti, acted toward her with a harshness and irritability which all lovers of justice must deplore. In the past other nations, such as Great Britain, France, and Spain, had had grievances real or supposed against Haiti; but with Germany there existed no such excuse for a misunderstanding or strained relations. Therefore it was to be expected that Germany would be at least impartial in her attitude toward Haiti and even lend her a helping hand. These expectations are far from having been realized.
Few nations have found themselves in the position of Haiti; few of them have had such difficulties to surmount from the start. And when her detractors reproach her, after but one century of her independence, with not having made as much progress as the United States or the old States of Europe, the sense of their injustice is lost in their manifestation of supreme ignorance, at least of their complete disregard of the historical evolution of the world. The Haitians would indeed be extraordinary beings if their civilization, which dates back only one hundred years, could equal that of Europe for instance. Before passing judgment on them by peremptorily declaring that they are incapable of governing themselves, one must remember the condition of their coming into existence as a nation and their extraction, and compare this with the length of time which France, Great Britain, and Germany have taken to arrive at their present state of civilization. The fact that after a century of free government the United States of America have been able to equal and even exceed the progress accomplished by some of the European States cannot be used as an argument against Haiti. The conditions of the two nations differed so vastly that no comparison is possible. Reflecting upon the conditions in the United States and those of Haiti, considered at the beginning of their independence, the most narrow-minded of men must at once concede that the difference which existed between the two countries takes away all question of comparison between them. When on the 4th of July, 1776, the colonies, in Congress assembled, proclaimed their independence, the men who were about to create the United States of America could be likened to children who were deserting the paternal home in order to found their own homes and families. The first American citizens were, as a matter of fact, Englishmen continuing on their own account the work begun by other Englishmen. The people of this new nation possessed the intellectual culture, the customs, the methods, and all the moral advantages of their former mother country; they had inherited from their ancestors centuries of accumulated efforts and instruction. Atavism had moulded and impressed their intellect. In organizing their government all that was necessary was to adjust it to immediate personal requirements in order to take up the onward progress begun by those from whom they had just parted. Moreover, the Americans were fortunate in that Great Britain accepted the accomplished fact without delay. Lord Cornwallis had hardly handed his sword to Washington (Yorktown, 1781), when George III recognized, in the House of Lords, the full independence of the United States (1782). Consequently, the Americans were able to set to work at once in building up their government without any fear of an aggression from their mother country.
What were Haiti's advantages under the same circumstances? At the time of her independence was it Frenchmen who were separating from other Frenchmen? Could the Haitians be considered as the successors of those whom they had just expelled from the island? Had they inherited from their ancestors centuries of accumulated efforts and instruction? The obvious answer to all these questions must he in the negative. The slaves who by marvels of dauntless courage had succeeded in gaining possession of a country had nothing in common with the Frenchmen; centuries of serfdom had kept them bound to the soil; their brains and higher instincts had been left uncultivated; their only notion of government had come from the whip of the overseer who had subjected them with the utmost cruelty to a severe discipline. Exposed to sufferings and humiliation from their childhood up to the time of their self-emancipation, brutalized by their unscrupulous owners, they could not have the same ideals as their masters. Some of them had succeeded in throwing off the degrading yoke of slavery and in acquiring knowledge. These more enlightened ones led them on to victory, but were unable to teach them from one day to another all they had to learn in matters of self-government. On the ruins of Saint-Domingue, still reeking with the blood of the Frenchmen, another race had risen, the great majority of whom, by reason of the treatment to which they had had to submit throughout all these years, were completely ignorant. This ignorant mass it was which had to be transformed into useful citizens, into a nation. One can appreciate what a delicate and difficult task this was, all the more so as the Haitians were greatly hampered by the continual menace of an aggression from France as well as by the ill will of all the foreign Powers, who at that time were in favor of slavery. For nearly a quarter of a century Haiti had to be on the alert, bent as she was on preserving her independence which no one was willing to recognize. Everything had to be created and organized. It was literally a new people who had come into life. Was it to be expected that in a century this nation could attain its complete and full development? As with other nations, progress must of necessity be slow with this new people. Spenser St. John "e tutti quanti" has overwhelmed Haiti with abuse in that her civilization is not as advanced as that of the Old World. But do these persons recollect how many centuries Great Britain, France, and Germany spent in all kinds of struggles before arriving at the state in which they are to-day?
And if civil wars, for which the Haitians have been so severely taken to task, were an evidence of the incapacity of a nation to govern itself, then the great Powers of to-day would not have existed. All of them have gone through trying ordeals, have paid for their advancement with the blood of the best among their citizens; every effort toward a higher ideal was marked by hecatombs; and those who have sacrificed their lives for the advancement of civilization cannot be numbered. Having now arrived at the pinnacle of glory the great Powers of to-day overlook the obstacles which they had to surmount; in their natural tendency to treat with disdain the young States that are now striving, as they themselves did in the past, to mount up step by step to the summit, they liken themselves to the upstarts who look with contempt upon the poor who are endeavoring by hard work to enrich themselves in their turn. By the position they occupy in the world, Great Britain, France, and Germany are unquestionably the most important nations of Europe; they are justly proud of their position. But has such an end been attained at the cost of no sufferings or struggles?
To obtain religious freedom alone has caused blood to flow freely in Germany. When in 1517 Luther nailed his celebrated protest at the door of the church of Wittemberg, his action stirred many souls who theretofore had been either passive or indifferent; their awakening set Germany ablaze. Massacres and incendiarisms were the order of the day throughout almost the entire sixteenth century. Catholics and Protestants did not cease to shed one another's blood until the seventeenth century, after the Thirty Years' War. This struggle left Germany dismembered and worn out, her commerce entirely destroyed, famine adding its horrors to the trials she had just gone through. This discord and these calamities, trying as they were, did not prevent Germany from continuing her march toward progress, they did not keep her from becoming one of the most powerful nations of the world. However, she had to fight desperately in order to secure even her political stability. To go back no farther than the twelfth century we find that her history is a series of oppressions, of rivalries and murders for the possession of power. The dispute between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines alone stained the country with blood for many centuries. At the death of Henry VII, Guelfs and Ghibellines had each a king; there ensued a civil war which ended when Otto IV was crowned in 1208. Otto was dethroned by Frederick I. Henry, the son of Frederick, made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow his father; he was defeated and put in prison, where he died. Some time after the death of Frederick II many pretenders fought for the possession of the crown. This period is known as the Interregnum. There was no security throughout the land; the barons fought continually among themselves, plundering peasants and travelers and committing all sorts of crimes, there being no law to check them. In Westphalia there were the "Wehmgerichte," secret tribunals which indicated to men, hired for the purpose, those whom they had decided were to be killed. For three hundred years these tribunals held sway. Rodolph of Austria succeeded in destroying the castles of the barons. His son Albert was murdered by his nephew after his struggle with Adolph of Nassau, who was striving to get possession of the throne. Henry of Luxemburg, who became Emperor under the title of Henry VII, died from poisoning (1313). Two pretenders then laid claim to the crown: Frederick and Louis of Bavaria. Frederick was defeated and imprisoned; but later on, the victor, Louis, was divested of his office and replaced by Charles IV, a son of the King of Bohemia. The barons became once more very powerful and again began their depredations. Wenceslas, the next Emperor, committed such atrocious cruelties that his sanity was questioned and he was kept imprisoned in a castle in Austria. Frederick III, whose indolence earned for him the nickname of Emperor Night Cap, occupied the throne from 1440 to 1493. The barons were continually at war with each other; the disturbances and dissensions were of such a character that Germany and the Emperor became the byword of Europe. Charles V, who succeeded Maximilian, entered into a struggle with the Lutherans, and a religious war raged during the seventeenth century; the Thirty Years' War having begun during the reign of Mathias who was elected in 1612. In 1806 the Empire of Germany ceased to exist and was replaced by thirty-nine States. All the bonds which formerly united the members of the great German family looked as if they had burst asunder; each State had its own laws and currency and levied taxes upon the products of the neighboring States. In 1848 the people resorted to violence; an insurrection broke out and was quickly subdued. It was only after sixty-four years of constant effort that the political unity which was shattered in 1806 succeeded in being reconstituted: the Empire of Germany was reestablished only as far back as 1870. Germany has thus gone through centuries of vicissitudes before reaching her present state of splendor.
England had to undergo like tribulations. The blood of a great number of her children was shed in establishing the liberty she enjoys to-day and of which she is justly proud. A century of continual warfare was necessary to obtain the unity of the kingdom. From 1074 to 1174 the barons fiercely defended their prerogatives; and many kings of England lost their lives in the cause of centralization. The struggle for the possession of power and religious quarrels also made numberless victims.
In 1100, whilst hunting with his brother, William Rufus was killed by an arrow; he was succeeded by Henry II, who had to fight against his brother Robert. After Henry's death two pretenders claimed the crown: his nephew Stephen and his daughter Mathilde (1135). A civil war ensued which lasted fifteen years. Henry II was obliged to fight against the barons. They succeeded in 1215 in forcing King John to sign the Magna Charta; this was followed by another civil war, during which the barons solicited the aid of the King of Prance. The strife continued when Henry III ascended the throne, his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, heading the rebellion. Victorious at the battle of Lewes (1264), Simon de Montfort summoned Parliament, and in 1265 the House of Commons met. Edward II had to fight against Roger Mortimer; the King was defeated, deposed by Parliament, and committed to Berkeley Castle, where he was murdered (1327). In 1381 began the agitation for the abolition of villeinage. The head-tax caused the discontent which had been fermenting among the serfs and free laborers to burst forth; they rose up in arms at the voice of Tyler and John Ball. For three weeks the mob was in possession of London; they pillaged and burned houses; beheaded the Lord Chancellor and the chief collector of the odious head-tax; destroyed all the law papers they could lay their hands on and murdered a number of lawyers; "for the rioters believed that the members of that profession spent their time forging the chains which held the laboring class in subjection." The revolt was crushed and the peasants were mercilessly put to death; their blood flowed freely. But the sacrifice of so many lives was not in vain; for the days of villeinage were numbered; they would ultimately succeed in ridding themselves of this institution and reestablishing the dignity of man. Although he was successful in subduing the uprising of the serfs, Richard II was unable to maintain his authority. Henry Bolingbroke rose against him. Richard was defeated, deposed by Parliament (1399), and confined in Pontefract Castle, where he was murdered.
Upon ascending the throne Henry IV had to subdue many uprisings. And the House of Commons availed itself of the opportunity to assume the exclusive right of granting the money needed for the expenses. Henry V (1413), who succeeded him, caused many of the Lollards to be put to death. Their leader, John Oldcastle, was burned as a heretic. Henry VI was dethroned in 1461 and died a prisoner in the Tower of London. Some important events of this reign were the rebellion of Jack Cade, the mismanagement of public affairs, and the personal rivalries which provoked the civil war known as the War of the Roses. For thirty years the English soil was stained with blood; and the contest was not for principle, but for place and spoils, and became a war of extermination.
The reign of Edward IV (1461-1483) was one of continual civil warfare. Edward V was murdered by his uncle, who thereupon took possession of the throne. But Richard III (1483-1485) did not long profit by his crime. He succeeded in crushing Buckingham's revolt, but was defeated by Henry Tudor and was found dead on the battlefield of Bosworth.
The accession of the Tudors to the throne with Henry VII (1485-1509) did not put an end to the effusion of English blood. Under the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1517), whose deeds are too well known to need being retold here, numbers of people were put to death for treason and heresy. Men and women alike were burned, some for being too zealous in their faith, others for not having enough belief. The establishment of the Church of England made matters still worse, adding as it did religious persecution to the already existing political rivalries. Conversion or extermination became the watchword of the two parties; and Protestants and Catholics were by turns burnt at the stake.
Queen Mary (1553-1558), known as "Bloody Mary," after suppressing the rebellion organized by Thomas Wyatt, caused Lady Jane Grey, whose reign had lasted only nine days, to be beheaded. In her proselytism Mary caused many Protestants to be burned at the stake. But upon Elizabeth's accession to the throne (1558-1603) it was the turn of the Catholics to suffer ruthless persecution and martyrdom. In order to rid herself of a dangerous rival, Elizabeth caused Mary Stuart to be beheaded. There were numerous plots against the Queen, treason was everywhere, and "had grown so common," says Hentzner, a German traveler in England, "that he counted 300 heads of persons who "had suffered death for this crime, exposed on London Bridge."
The change of dynasty did not put an end to the religious and political strife. The Stuarts, by proclaiming the doctrine of the divine right of kings, provoked a bitter struggle between the people and the sovereign. James I (1603-1625), who asserted this theory, had, at the beginning of his reign, to baffle two plots: the "Main plot," whose object was to place Arabella Stuart on the throne, and the "By plot," which aimed at obtaining religious toleration. The Conspirators in the Gunpowder plot were mercilessly dealt with. The tendency to absolute power manifested by James I increased under the reign of Charles I (1625-1649). The struggle between the King and Parliament assumed a violent character. Civil war began once more. Defeated in 1645, Charles resorted again to arms in 1648. Meeting with severe reverses he was tried and sentenced to death as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy," and was beheaded on the 30th of January, 1649.
The Commonwealth and Protectorate (1649-1660), which became the Government of England after the execution of Charles I, were in reality but a military despotism. Cromwell's will was supreme, as the real power lay in his army. At the head of a troop of soldiers he expelled Parliament, "the speaker being dragged from his chair and the members driven after him." The new Parliament which he summoned adopted the Constitution known as "Instrument of Government." Cromwell, who by this Constitution (1653) was made Lord Protector or President for life, arrogated the authority of a king. He repressed with extreme severity the revolt of the Irish, many of whom were deported and sold as slaves in the West Indies. England was divided into military districts ruled by martial law and with despotic power. All Catholic priests were banished; and no books or papers could be published without permission of the Government.
During the latter part of his life Cromwell was in such dread of being murdered that he constantly wore concealed armor. When he died in 1658 he was succeeded by his son Richard (September 3), who, however, remained in office but little over seven months, the military chiefs compelling him to abdicate on the 22d of April, 1659.
Parliament was expelled by the army and the country was left without any organized government. Insecurity and anxiety provoked a reaction. General Monk invaded England and monarchy was restored upon Charles II ascending the throne.
As soon as Charles II (1660-1685) had become King, he began to avenge his father's death. The regicides were either put to death or imprisoned for life. Violent religious persecutions ensued. The Dissenters, all those who were not Episcopalians, were dealt with with the utmost severity; they were sent to jail, fined, and even sold into slavery. The Covenanters principally were made to undergo cruel punishments. They were hunted down like animals and mercilessly hanged or drowned. "The father of a family would be dragged from his cottage by the soldiers, asked if he would take the test of conformity to the Church of England and to Charles's Government; if not, then came the order, 'Make ready—present—fire!'—and there lay the corpse of the rebel." Under mere suspicion many innocent persons were thrown into prison and executed.
James II (1685-1689) was no less cruel than his predecessor. The defeat of the rebellion led by Monmouth was followed by the "Bloody Assizes" (1685). This tribunal was a travesty of justice. Those who were brought before it were not allowed to defend themselves. Judge Jeffreys, who presided over it, was the embodiment of cruelty and corruption. Over 1,000 persons were sentenced either to be hanged, beheaded, or sold as slaves. "The guide-posts of the highways were converted into gibbets from which blackened corpses swung in chains, and from every church tower in Somersetshire ghastly heads looked down on those who gathered there to worship God; in fact, so many bodies were exposed that the whole air was tainted with corruption and death." To rid themselves of James II the English people were obliged to call William of Orange to their aid. The latter landed in England (1688) with a force of 14,000 soldiers. Deserted by his army, James fled to France.
William and Mary succeeded him (1689-1702). This revolution had great consequences. Courts of justice ceased to be "little better than caverns of murderers." The divine right of kings was no longer asserted and the liberty of the press was established. However, the dynasty of Orange did not maintain its authority without the effusion of blood. Before long James II landed in Ireland, but was defeated and fled once more to France (1690). As a sequel of this civil strife Roman Catholics were hunted like wild beasts and thousands of the Irish were compelled to leave their country.
In Scotland also the struggle was fierce and desperate. Terrible measures followed upon William's victory. At Glencoe the clan of the Macdonalds was entirely exterminated.
The reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) was disturbed by party strife. Superstition was rampant. Anne herself sincerely believed that she could cure the sick by touching them. An official announcement actually appeared in the London Gazette, "Stating that on certain days the Queen would 'touch' people to cure them of 'King's evil' or scrofula."
After eighteen centuries of self-government there was no efficient police force in London; it was dangerous to go about at night in the streets, which were miserably lighted and heaped with filth, and infested with ruffians. Neither was there any safety along the highways; and even in the daytime it was imprudent to travel without an armed escort. The roads were in a fearful condition; and so great was the expense of transportation that farmers often let their produce rot on the ground rather than attempt to get it to the nearest market-town. The poor man's parish was virtually his prison, and if he left it to seek work elsewhere he was certain to be sent back to the place where he was legally settled. Hanging was the common punishment for most offenses. Men and women were frequently whipped along the streets. Fastened to the pillory ordinary offenders were publicly exposed to the insults and outrages of the populace.
Notwithstanding the change of dynasty when the House of Hanover came into power, civil wars continued still. George I (1714-1727) had to defend his crown against the son of James II. The adherents of the Pretender were defeated and many men sold as slaves in the West Indies, the leaders being either hanged or beheaded.
Party feeling caused by too frequent elections was instrumental in provoking a revolt; consequently, to do away with this cause of unrest the duration of Parliament was extended from three to seven years. And in order to maintain his authority the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, resorted to corruption, bribing the voters and conferring titles and distinctions. His theory was "that every man has his price," and that an appeal to the pocket was both quicker and surer than an appeal to principle. However, he established the form of government still in force, viz., the administration of the affairs of the state by a Cabinet whose members are chosen by the Prime Minister.
The military success of George II (1727-1760) did not prevent the continuation of political unrest. Charles Edward, a grandson of James II, laid claim to the crown, and fought for it almost a year. He was ultimately defeated at Culloden and made his escape to France.
George III (1760-1820) was also compelled to shed blood in order to maintain his authority. Whilst England was waging war against her rebellious colonies in America Lord George Gordon stirred up the people at home to rebellion. "London was once more at the mercy of a furious mob, which set fire to Catholic chapels, pillaged many dwellings, and committed every species of outrage (1780)." One's life was in constant danger from the rioters; those especially who did not wear the blue cockade of the Protestants ran the greatest risk of being killed.
The rebellion of Ireland in 1798 was put down with great severity; blood flowed on all sides and horrible atrocities were committed daily. Even after the union with Great Britain the sons of Erin tried to free themselves from the English domination. In 1803 Robert Emmet took up arms, but was defeated and put to death.
In 1811 the English peasants, brought to despair by the competition of steam machinery in modern industry, resorted to violence under the leadership of Ludd; they broke into factories, destroying the machinery and burning down buildings. This riot was suppressed and numbers of the rioters were executed.
It was only during the reign of George III that the press acquired the right of reporting Parliamentary debates, whereas under the Stuarts and the Tudors it would have been highly dangerous for members of Parliament to make public their criticism of the government.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the condition of England could still admit of vast improvement; punishments were of an excessive and barbarous nature, men of birth flocked to the prisons to look on at the flogging of wretched women; even children were hanged for petty larceny. And not only were the jails dens of misery and disease, but also schools of iniquity and crime.
After centuries of existence there was little safety in the capital of Great Britain. The streets of London were dark and dangerous by night and highway robberies were of frequent occurrence; the streets began to be properly lighted only toward the close of the reign of George IV. "In the country the great mass of the people were nearly as ignorant as they were in the darkest part of the Middle Ages. Hardly a peasant over 40 years of age could be found who could read a verse in the Bible, and not one in ten could write his name." When George IV ascended the throne (1820-1830) the condition of the people was still very bad; such was the scarcity of food that they were on the verge of famine; and a great majority could not find employment; as a result of this state of things public meetings were held, but were considered seditious and dispersed by force. Freedom of speech, liberty of the press, and the rights of persons to assemble in a body were restricted. These measures resulted in the conspiracy known as "Cato Street plot," the leaders of which were either executed or banished.
Nevertheless, these agitations did not prevent the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from carrying out very great reforms. Religious toleration was established and the creed of a man was no longer a bar to public office; henceforth Dissenters were eligible to all municipal or corporate offices, and Catholics were no longer excluded from sitting in Parliament (1829). And in order to force the House of Lords to abolish the rotten boroughs the people, during the reign of William IV (1830-1837), resorted to riots. At Nottingham the mob burnt and pillaged the castle of the Duke of Newcastle, who was known to be one of the leading opponents of the reform. The Reform bill which gave to the country over half a million more voters was ultimately passed in 1832. Up to that time the election of a member of Parliament very often occasioned great disturbances; the small towns found themselves infested with "drunken ruffians" who assaulted their opponents, going so far as to confine prominent citizens, setting them at liberty only after the elections were over. Peaceful men were in this way so intimidated that in many instances they abstained from voting.
The Reform bill, however, did not grant the right of voting to the peasants; a certain class only of these were admitted to the franchise in 1884, owing to the energy of a laborer, Joseph Arch. Voting by secret ballot was adopted only in 1872. It was not until the year 1888 that persons of all denominations were eligible to become members of Parliament.
It thus took the English people nineteen centuries of constant struggles and untiring efforts to acquire true electoral freedom; and they do not yet enjoy universal suffrage. Even at the time of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne (1837-1901) there was great discontent among the people. "Wages were low, work scarce, and bread dear. In the cities thousands of half-fed creatures lived in squalid cellars; in the country the same class occupied wretched hovels hardly better than cellars. … A very large proportion of the children of the poorer classes were growing up in a state of barbarism. They knew practically little more of books or schools than the young Hottentots of South Africa."
As to public offices, those were considered up to 1870 as the booty of the party which was successful in an election; and the motto of some politicians was, "Every man for himself and the National Treasury for us all." These scandalous proceedings ceased when positions in the civil service were to be obtained solely by competitive examinations.
In spite of her unquestionable wealth and her powerful position in the world England has still to solve a very delicate problem—the agricultural question, which is giving some concern. Thousands of acres of fertile soil are no longer under cultivation and the laborers thus left without employment are congregating more and more in the towns. The consequences of the agricultural crisis were also felt in the British colonies of the West Indies; they have lost much of their former splendor. By importing beet sugar into England it became impossible for them to continue with advantage to themselves the cultivation of the sugar-cane. The preponderance of the English in these colonies, or in other words and to use an expression familiar to the calumniators of Haiti, the supremacy of the white man, was unable to preserve the former prosperity of the British possessions in the West Indies. It is therefore more than unjust to impute to the laziness of the Haitians or to their so-called incapacity for governing themselves the abandonment of the cultivation of many products which for economic reasons are no longer profitable.
Will the English writers of the school of St. John now admit that more than one century was necessary to their country in order to attain political stability, to conquer its liberty and achieve its full development? From her many severe trials England has emerged stronger and more powerful; and she is the more justly proud of her present condition in that it has been acquired at the cost of great effort and the lives of a great number of her sons.
Haiti, which has comparatively come into life but yesterday, need not be disheartened; she knows that the struggle for progress is a hard one and that success is not easy to be obtained. Were she inclined to ignore this fact, the tribulations through which France has passed would have been sufficient to make her realize the difficulty of the task. This nation, which was and still is one of the greatest exponents of civilization, should have long ago been struck off the maps of the world if intestine dissensions and civil wars were to prove the incapacity of a people to govern itself. With France, as with Germany and Great Britain, almost every step on the thorny road of progress has been paid for with the blood of her children. Her history, to go no farther back than 1789, is at least as agitated and surely more bloody than that of Haiti. It took this people, who rank to-day as one of the leading nations of the world, more than eighteen centuries to obtain true political cohesion, civil equality, the right to choose its own government and the liberty which seems to be now firmly established. It is unnecessary here to recall the horrible massacres caused by religious strife, the disturbance occasioned by the rivalry of political factions and by various struggles for the possession of power. The history of France contains many glorious pages as well as some most deplorable ones. She has undergone many trials, great suffering and humiliations; yet she has always risen from her ashes, preserving intact her supremacy in letters, arts, and sciences.
For more than eighteen centuries absolute monarchy prevailed in France. The authority of the monarch was boundless, in him were vested all the functions now allotted almost universally to different people; he possessed at the same time all executive, legislative and judiciary power. His Ministers were as so many irresponsible clerks. His decrees and ordinances were laws and he levied taxes according to his will. By his orders (lettres de cachet) he could cause to be imprisoned for life or for an indefinite time any one who gained his displeasure. In 1789 this despotism received its first blow; but a series of revolutions was necessary in order to free the country of it and to obtain political freedom. During the whole of the nineteenth century France strove to secure the form of government most suited to her requirements. The crisis began with the fall of the Bastille (July 14, 1789), and for ten years thereafter the country was in a constant state of convulsion, each party plotting the downfall of the other. There was safety for no one; the guillotine perpetually at work threatened all alike. From the 14th of July, 1789, the most violent passions were unbridled, causing the most refined people in the world to become guilty of all manner of atrocities; scores of persons were put to death and their heads paraded through the streets, these ghastly sights exciting the people to fresh carnage.
In 1791 strenuous efforts were made to do away with the doctrine of the divine right of kings in favor of that of national sovereignty. The Constitution adopted in that year caused severe friction between the King and the masses; and Louis XVI was defeated in the struggle which ensued. He was suspended from office by the Legislative Assembly on the 10th of August, 1792, and the authority was vested in a provisional Executive Council. The horrible massacres of September were the forerunner of the establishment of the Republic. The National Convention soon assumed supreme authority, chiefly through its famous Committee on Public Safety. By the Reign of Terror which he inaugurated, Robespierre in 1793 became the master of France. In the mean time, in order to assert the complete severance between them and the long-established monarchy which had held sway in their country, the people caused the unfortunate King Louis XVI, who had been formally deposed in September, 1792, to be guillotined on the 21st of January, 1793. The province of Vendée rose up in arms; and the atrocities of a civil war were added to the horrors of the foreign war which at the time was being waged against France. In their mad frenzy the French mercilessly slaughtered one another. The inhabitants of Vendée hunted down the Republicans like wild beasts, women being often seen giving the finishing stroke to the victims. The Republicans, in their turn,, gave no quarter to their enemies. Carrier, at Nantes, ordered many innocent people to be drowned; at Lyon the prisoners were mowed down with grape-shot. Threatened from abroad by the coalition of Europe and at home by the insurgents, the new government regarded as its enemies all those who did not profess their admiration of it, the slightest act of opposition being considered treasonable. And, according to the law adopted in September, 1793 (Loi des Suspects), "all of those who had done nothing for the cause of liberty" were liable to be held as foes whom it was well to be rid of. This was a year of unequalled bloodshed; the prisons were overcrowded and the guillotine never ceased in its ghastly function. Men and women alike fell victims to it. Marie-Antoinette, the ill-fated Queen of France, as well as the famous Republican, Madame Roland, were beheaded by it. Numbers of innocent persons were put to death. France seemed on the verge of being dismembered: Toulon had placed itself under the dominion of the English; Paoli had made them masters of Corsica; Roussillon and Béarn were occupied by the Spaniards; the Prussians were at Mayence; the Austrians at Conde and Valenciennes. Still France would not allow herself to lose heart in the face of the fearful odds against her; her dogged energy saved her from the many perils by which she was surrounded. The blood of her children flowed freely: The Girondists, Hebertists, and Dantonists, the extremists as well as those of more moderate inclinations, were by turns guillotined. In order to put an end to the carnage it was necessary to overthrow the leading spirit of it all; and Robespierre, the man who was feared by all, was eventually dragged to the guillotine, half dead, his jaw broken by a pistol-shot (Thermidor 9, 1794). The Reign of Terror had lasted but 420 days, and during this comparatively short space of time the executions alone amounted to 2,596!
The Constitution of the first year of the Republic (1793), which the National Convention had immediately adopted, was never carried into effect; it was replaced by the Constitution of the year III (1795).
The Directory failed to restore quiet; in the reaction which followed Robespierre's death, the Reign of Terror continued, the Republicans becoming this time its principal victims; they were massacred in the South, at Toulon, Marseilles, Aix, and Lyons; armed bands scoured the country, plundering, murdering, and setting fire everywhere. In Paris the mob broke into the National Convention and killed Deputy Ferrand, whose head they placed on a pole and presented to Boissy d'Anglas, the president of the Assembly. On the 13th of Vendémiaire, year III (October 4, 1795), the troops of General Bonaparte had to subdue the riots of the royalists at the mouth of the cannon.
When the Directory was established (October 25, 1795) the situation was not a very promising one; the people were on the brink of starvation and the treasury was entirely depleted. "The Generals did not even receive every month the eight francs in metallic money to which amount their pay had been reduced besides the assignats." Measures of extraordinary severity had to be taken to maintain order; and numerous conspiracies were being plotted. Babeuf and the Jacobins were guillotined. The army interfered in political affairs; the soldiers surrounded the Council of the Five Hundred and that of the Ancients, whose royalist members were arrested. Two members of the Directory, Carnot and Barthélemy, were deported. Barras's corruption, the bad morals of the time, and the general state of insecurity increased the discontent of the people. The nation was at the disposal of the first daring man possessed of sufficient energy and courage to undertake its salvation. General Bonaparte, who had just arrived from Egypt, constituted himself the savior of France. As soon as he had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Paris (November 9, 1799) he caused the Council of the Five Hundred to be invaded by his soldiers; the Deputies were forcibly dragged from their seats. This high-handed proceeding met with the approval of the people; and in the evening of Brumaire the 19th the Council of the Ancients and what was left of the Council of the Five Hundred passed a resolution abolishing the Directory.
The new government which was organized consisted of three provisional Consuls: Bonaparte, Siéyès, and Roger-Ducos. The Constitution of the year VIII (1800) afterward decided that the three Consuls should remain in office for ten years; Bonaparte, Cambacérès, and Lebrun being appointed. The first Consul had all the powers of a king; his two colleagues being there only to give advice.
In spite of the absolute power vested in him, Bonaparte's ambition was to obtain still more unlimited authority. In virtue therefore of the services he had rendered France and of the prestige he had acquired by his victories, he caused himself to be appointed Consul for life on the 4th of August, 1802, with the right of selecting his successor. In this way the authority became once more vested in one man, and the semblance of republican government which still obtained was before long abolished. On the 18th of May, 1804, a Senatus-Consultum established the Empire. The Constitution which was enacted (year XII) tried to save appearances by stating that the "government of the Republic was intrusted to an Emperor"; but Napoleon's will became supreme and knew no restraint. For more than ten years France was in a state of constant warfare with Europe.
Defeated in 1814, Napoleon resigned his office and withdrew to Elba, of which he became the sovereign. A provisional government was organized under the presidency of Talleyrand and held authority until the arrival of the Bourbons. On the 4th of May Louis XVIII entered Paris and soon after granted the Charter of 1814. The new monarch was no sooner installed than he found himself compelled to fly to Gand; Napoleon had landed at Golfe Jouan on the 1st of March, 1815; and on the 20th he was in Paris. A new Constitution, entitled the "Additional Act to the Constitutions of the Empire," was enacted, a sort of constitutional monarchy being decreed. But Napoleon's liberalism did not have the opportunity of a fair test; for, upon his defeat at Waterloo on the 18th of June, 1815, he abdicated his sovereignty forever, and was banished to St. Helena, where he died.
A Commission presided over by Fouché was in authority until Louis XVIII, brought back for the second time by the foreign troops, was able to retake possession of the throne of his ancestors (July 8, 1815); upon which a series of reprisals commenced. Marshal Brune was assassinated. Murder and plunder terrorized Nimes and Uzes; prisons were invaded and Protestants, Republicans, and Bonapartists were dragged from them into the streets and massacred. Ney and Lebédoyère were shot, and the death sentences of the military courts were carried into effect within twenty-four hours.
The Charter of 1814 which was reenacted was unable to protect Charles X, who succeeded Louis XVIII in 1824, from the thirst for liberty of the French masses. The tendency of the new monarch to assume absolute power created great discontent among them. On the 28th of July, 1830, the inhabitants of Paris took up arms and fierce encounters took place at the barricades which were erected in the streets. At last Charles X was compelled to fly to England (August 16, 1830).
The Charter of 1814 was altered and Louis Philippe became King of the French (August 9, 1830).
There was fresh shedding of blood in order that the new dynasty might maintain its authority. The following year, 1831, a riot occurred in Paris, in the course of which the archbishop's palace was invaded and pillaged; an insurrection broke out also at Lyons. In 1832 and 1834 fresh riots broke out in Paris, grave disturbances taking place also at Luneville, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, and Marseilles. Another insurrection which broke out at Lyons was quelled after four days of bloody fighting.
The opponents of the Government demanded certain electoral and parliamentary reforms; their demands were very moderate and did not include universal suffrage; they would have been satisfied with having the electoral qualification reduced from 200 to 100 francs, and with the "adjonction des capacités," i. e., the right of the participation in the elections of a certain class such as university graduates, public functionaries, etc. The refusal of Louis Philippe's government to grant these two reforms for which the public was so eager, provoked what Lamartine termed "the revolution of contempt." On the 22d of February, 1848, Paris was in a great state of agitation. On the evening of the 23d a group of citizens who were parading through the streets was fired upon by the soldiers. This was the signal for the insurrection. Next morning found Paris covered with barricades; the city was once more in a state of war. Louis Philippe, like Charles X, had to seek safety in flight. The victorious mob invaded the Tuileries and hacked the throne to pieces.
The House of Representatives organized a provisional government, as did the municipality. A compromise was at last effected; a provisional government was established and universal suffrage adopted. The National Assembly met on the 4th of May, proclaimed the Republic, and decreed a new provisional government consisting of five members. This Assembly, which seemingly possessed the full confidence of the citizens of Paris, was nevertheless invaded by the mob which, on the 15th of May, demanded its immediate dissolution. They were about to form a new provisional government when the militia arrived in time to frustrate their plans and rescue the representatives of the nation. The riot was put down, but broke out again before long. The Assembly was not favorable to the socialistic experiments which were being carried on; and the "ateliers nationaux," organized for the sole purpose of procuring work for men without employment, did not meet with its approval. On the 21st of June it decreed the abolition of these "ateliers." When, on the 23d, the news of this decision reached the workingmen, they at once resorted to violence. Fighting started once more in the streets and during four days Paris was one vast battlefield where blood flowed in torrents. The Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Affré, was shot whilst endeavoring to pacify the fighters on both sides. In order to suppress this insurrection the Assembly was obliged to invest General Eugène Cavaignac, the Secretary of War, with dictatorial power (June 25); and the Executive Commission which was in authority had to resign. Generals Duvivier and Négrier were killed; General Bréda was murdered by the insurgents, who suffered a complete defeat on the 26th of June. On the 28th General Cavaignac relinquished his absolute authority; but the Assembly maintained him at the head of the executive power and enacted the Constitution of 1848. The President of the Republic was to be elected by the vote of the people for a term of four years. At the election which took place on the 10th of December, 1848, Louis Napoleon defeated General Cavaignac. The new President took the oath of office on the 20th of December, and before long was at odds with the Legislative Assembly. His term was to expire in 1852; and, according to the Constitution, he was not eligible for reelection. But Louis Napoleon, who had no intention of giving up the power he held, tried to have the Constitution altered so as to enable him to remain in authority; upon his plans being frustrated he resorted to violent measures. On the night of December 2, 1851, several Deputies were arrested and locked up in the prison of Mazas; Generals Cavaignac, Lamoricière, Changarnier, Bedeau, and Leflo were also imprisoned. The President ordered the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, which he styled "a centre of conspiracies." On the 4th of December the streets of Paris once more ran with blood; the provinces also took up arms in protest against that which they considered the first step toward the establishment of absolute power. Thirty-two Departments were declared in a state of siege. Louis Napoleon succeeded in restoring peace and order, but the repression was very severe; extraordinary courts were organized, which rendered over a thousand sentences of banishment; sixty-six Deputies were sent into exile.
On the 20th of December, 1851, a plebiscite ratified the high-handed proceedings of Louis Napoleon and intrusted to him the enacting of a new Constitution; thus conferring on him dictatorial power. He availed himself of this opportunity to attain his desire, and on the 20th of January, 1852, he proclaimed the new Constitution conferring on the President of the Republic, who was to be elected for ten years, the exclusive right of introducing laws. The legislative body was not permitted to alter the laws submitted for its approval without the consent of a Council of State whose members were appointed by the President. The days of the Republic were decidedly numbered. A senatus-consultum moved that the Empire be reestablished, and the measure was ratified by a plebiscite on the 21st of November. On the 1st of December, 1852, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte became Napoleon III.
The Constitution of January, 1852, was altered so as to agree with the new régime which France had adopted. At first the Imperial Government was fortunate with its military operations in Europe. But the victories won in Italy and the Crimea were unable to counterbalance the appalling disasters which resulted from the conflict with Germany. Invasion, humiliation, and dismemberment: such were for France the consequences of the second Empire. The catastrophe of Sedan (September 2, 1870) was speedily followed by the overthrow of the dynasty of the Napoleons. On the 4th of September the Republic was once more proclaimed in Paris, whose Deputies organized a provisional government called the "Government of National Defense," which was presided over by General Trochu. This revolution, which occurred whilst the enemy was marching on the capital, was the beginning of the last severe trials which remained for France to undergo during the nineteenth century before definitely securing her political liberty.
When Paris was besieged by the Germans its inhabitants gave proof of marvelous energy and courage; but well-nigh starved to death, they were compelled to capitulate and the city was occupied by the German army; an armistice was signed; and the National Assembly which was elected met at Bordeaux. Mr. Thiers was appointed chief of the executive power of the French Republic (February 17, 1871). Yet the tendency of the majority of the Assembly was monarchical—a fact not calculated to gain the confidence of the Republicans. The presence of foreign soldiers on the national territory did not prevent a terrible civil war from breaking out. The National Assembly had transferred its sittings to Versailles and decreed the abolition of the pay of the militia. This decision was followed by the same evil consequences as the suppression of the "ateliers nationaux" in 1848. The inhabitants of Paris, most of whom were already distrustful of the Assembly's intentions, immediately took up arms. On the 18th of March, 1871, the militia captured an artillery park encamped upon the heights of Montmartre. The insurrection began by the murder of two Generals, Clément Thomas and Lecomte. The Government gave up Paris to the Commune and withdrew to Versailles. The struggle was appalling in its cruel pitilessness. The French, in a frenzy, slaughtered one another, the Prussians remaining mere spectators of this fearful carnage. Paris was once again in a state of siege. On the 20th of May the troops from Versailles succeeded in forcing an entrance into the unfortunate city, and war was again carried on in the streets. Blood ran in torrents during the fight and again in the innumerable executions which followed. When every hope was lost, instead of submitting to the inevitable, the Communards resorted to revolting crimes; the Archbishop of Paris, the President of the Court of Accounts, and numbers of priests and friars were mercilessly butchered. The Tuileries, the Court of Accounts, and the City Hall were destroyed by fire; bands of ruffians were seen with cans of petroleum in hand setting fire to the finest houses in Paris. The Commune was subdued after a week of severe fighting; but the suppression was as terrible as the struggle had been. The soldiers shot all suspects who fell into their hands. The executions alone numbered over 6,500, and more than 7,000 persons were sentenced by court martial to be deported.
This was the last bloody crisis through which France passed during the nineteenth century, though many, unsuccessful attempts were made in order to overthrow the Republic, which now seems to be firmly established.
After investing Mr. Thiers with the title of President (August 31, 1871) the Assembly persisted in regarding the Republic as a provisional form of government, and assumed such an attitude that Mr. Thiers resigned his office (May 24, 1873). Marshal McMahon was then elected President of the Republic for seven years and the constitutional laws were enacted in 1875.
However, intrigues for the restoration of the monarchy did not cease; they resulted first in the dissolution of the House of Representatives (1877) and then in the resignation of the President of the Republic (January 30, 1879).
Jules Grévy, who succeeded Marshal McMahon, had to resign before the expiration of his second term; Sadi-Carnot, who succeeded him, was assassinated, and Casimir-Perier, who was elected on the 27th of June, 1894, resigned on the 14th of January, 1895.
The foregoing events serve to prove that after nineteen centuries of existence France spent almost the whole nineteenth century seeking for the political régime best suited to her needs. In order to secure this political régime she had to change her Constitution twelve times, to go through civil wars, disorder, confusion, and such terrible crises as at times caused her best friends to despair of her future. Yet this nation still exists and is moreover still respected and powerful.
By recalling the tribulations, the painful episodes of the history of Germany, Great Britain, and France before they arrived at their present political stability and at the high place they occupy in the world, it is not my intention to infer that for centuries to come Haiti must remain a prey to civil strife and discord. By relating what may be termed historical fatalities I intend simply to establish that she does not deserve the anathemas launched against her; I want principally to show that the question of race has nothing to do with the disturbances which from time to time have agitated her. Few countries have progressed without bloodshed and fierce struggles. Haiti did not escape the consequences of this fatality to which all nations seemed doomed in the beginning; she is no exception to the rule. Her detractors are aware therefore that they are acting in bad faith when they affect to believe and cause others to believe that her civil wars are due solely to the so-called incapacity of her people to govern themselves; they intentionally forget the disturbances which have given so many anxious moments to France, whose inhabitants, however, are not black. If this powerful, rich, and highly educated people had, during nineteen centuries, to grope for the political regime best suited to their temperament, can the world refuse to make some allowance and to have a little indulgence for Haiti, whose existence dates back but a hundred years and whose sons possessed none of the advantages enjoyed by those of the older nations of Europe?
The lesson taught us by the history of the Old World should make it clear that there is nothing surprising in the fact that after a century of existence Haiti has not attained the height of modern civilization; neither is there anything humiliating for her in the fact that she also had to grope for the best political régime most suited to her people. King, Emperor, and President have each in turn been tried by her; and the Republic, in spite of some temporary failures, is definitely established; the people have energetically shown their preference for this form of government, and since 1859 no ruler, however fond he may have been of absolute power, has dared to disregard the firm will of the nation on this point. The understanding, therefore, is now complete as to the form of government; all that remains to be done is to consolidate and perfect it. It is this work of consolidation and improvement which has cost such great efforts and provoked so many convulsions and disturbances. The civil wars in Haiti have not all been caused by personal rivalries or by unbridled ambition. The struggle has been more for the sake of principle than is generally thought. In order fully to understand and appreciate the causes which brought about the revolutions which have agitated Haiti, one must closely study the character of the people and endeavor so to enter into their feelings as to form a just conception of their ideals, their hopes and expectations, and of the spirit by which they were animated. The same love of liberty which rendered the yoke of slavery unbearable to them led them to sacrifice their liberator Dessalines when his rule appeared to be growing too despotic. And the conflict between Pétion and Christophe was more the outcome of a difference of opinion as to principle than a matter of personal rivalry: it was a struggle of republican against monarchical ideas. And the Haitians, as fond of equality as they are of liberty, will give their firm support against all odds to that system of government which does not establish privileges and renders public offices accessible to all citizens according to merit.
The first civil war which took place in Haiti resulted in the triumph of the Republic; monarchy disappearing with Christophe in 1820. The new form of government was planned in accordance with the requirements of the day. The necessity of taking precautions against the possibility of an aggression from France, the absolute authority vested in the Governor-General still fresh in people's minds, and the natural inexperience of men just freed from slavery, all combined in deciding the people to invest the Chief Executive with extraordinary powers and prerogatives. And in order to avoid the disturbances provoked by too frequent elections, Presidency for life was established.
The circumstances which had necessitated a strongly organized Executive Power underwent a change when the independence of Haiti was fully recognized by France. As soon as they were relieved of the fear of an attack from the former mother country the people began to object to the amount of power of which their ruler was possessed, and desired to have his authority curtailed and adapted to the new state of things. At that time the exclusive right to introduce laws was held by President Boyer, the members of his Cabinet being like so many clerks. The House of Representatives wished to partake in the privilege of introducing laws, requesting also that public affairs be managed by responsible Ministers forming a Council of Secretaries of State, presided over by the President of the Republic. In their youthful enthusiasm this new nation demanded reforms which the Executive Power did not deem advisable to grant. This brought about the revolution of 1843; again it was a question of principles which actuated this revolution. The Constitution enacted in the same year did away with the Presidency for life, limiting the term to four years, and the Council of Secretaries of State was instituted. The right of introducing laws was conferred on both the Executive and the Legislative authorities. Trial by jury was introduced for all criminal cases. Municipal authority was at the same time increased to such an extent as to subject the military to the civil power. This last reform was an untimely one and in part provoked the disturbances which for four years agitated Haiti. A clash resulted before long between the two forces, and from 1843 to 1847 Haiti underwent a period of transition complicated by the uprising of the peasants, who demanded the betterment of their condition. The insecurity which reigned created a strong reaction against the ideas of liberty, and the military party gained the advantage in the struggle. Faustin Soulouque became Emperor in 1849. The country, weary of the four years of turmoil which it had just gone through, accepted for a while the despotism of its ruler, but resumed the struggle for liberty as soon as it had regained strength. The Empire was overthrown in January, 1859; and the Republic which Geffrard reestablished has been since that time the form of government of the country. This was another revolution in which two opposite principles fought for supremacy the one over the other, and it resulted in the reforms adopted in 1843 being asserted.
There are people who may contend that the reestablishment of the Republic should have put an end to revolutions. So it might if no fresh causes had crept up to disturb the harmony of things; as it was, there were two principal causes which provoked new disturbances, namely, Presidency for life and the conflicting opinions of the military and civil parties. Geffrard had made the mistake of accepting the Presidency for life, which the people were bent on abolishing; after eight years of successful administration he was compelled to resign. The Constitution of 1867 once more abolished Presidency for life, limiting the term to four years. But the new President, Salnave, ill advised and ill inspired, had the unhappy idea of inducing the army to invest him with Presidency for life. Thereupon the struggle began anew; the people took up arms, decided to teach their rulers a lesson that they would long remember. Salnave was defeated, sentenced to death by a court martial, and shot on the 15th of January, 1870. His tragic fate served to confirm the principle of a limited term of Presidency, Presidency for life being forever abolished. The struggle was a long and costly one; but the wish of the nation was realized and their hard-won reform, introduced for the second time in 1843, was at last definitely secured. Presidency for a limited term is unquestionably a move in favor of a liberal and progressive Republic.
Since 1879 the term of the Presidency has been extended to seven years. This septennial duration gives to the country the peace and the tranquillity of which it is so greatly in need. Salomon remained in office during his full term, and would have retired peaceably had he not sought to be reelected. Hyppolite died one year previous to the expiration of his term of office, whilst Simon-Sam remained President for the stipulated time, and General Nord Alexis, who was elected in 1902, has been in authority for four years (1906), during which time the country has enjoyed great tranquillity.
At the time of Presidential elections there is great excitement among the people, who sometimes unfortunately resort to violence; but these regrettable disturbances are very often far from having the importance with which they are credited abroad, quiet being restored as soon as the election is over; for the general tendency of the people is to accept and support the President-elect; which is unquestionably a good omen as regards future tranquillity.
It has not yet been possible to do away with all the causes liable to bring about disturbances, such as the continual struggle for supremacy between the civil and the military parties. The experience acquired in the past will help to facilitate this transition; meanwhile, the Haitians have secured many important points, viz., first, the definite triumph of the principle of equality over favoritism by adopting a form of government in which public offices are accessible to all; second, the curtailing of the power of the President by limiting his term of office and by the check on his executive duties of a Council of Ministers accountable to Congress; third, the division of the right of introducing laws between the President and Congress; fourth, the establishment of the annual enactment of the Budget; fifth, the adoption of trial by jury for all criminal cases and all violations of the law committed through the press; sixth, the organization of a Court of Accounts for the control of public expenses; seventh, rendering effective the personal responsibility of officeholders; and securing greater freedom for all citizens in the towns as well as in the country. The acquisition of these rights, although costing in some cases the sacrifice of many lives, is nevertheless a cause of self-congratulation. Civil wars in general are not to be approved of; but not all of those which have taken place in Haiti have been barren of good results, having in many instances promoted the cause of liberty. Enlightened by the experience of the past, the Executive Power will become less and less unyielding and will cease to oppose uncompromisingly the just reforms desired by the people; it will thus become easier for them to forge and to work out their destiny without further violence and bloodshed.
A nation which has been through so many crises and has voluntarily endured so many hardships in order to improve its political regime cannot be considered degenerate and retrogressive. Like the countries of the Old World, Haiti will achieve the conquest of its ideal by the steadfastness of its faith in personal effort and the consciousness of its dignity and its duty toward the race whose rehabilitation it has willingly undertaken to secure.
When all is considered, especially the fact that the existence of Haiti as a nation dates back only one century, one is brought to the conclusion that this country has been no more disturbed nor agitated than France for instance; her changes of government have at any rate not been more numerous. France has had in succession the rule of the Directory, the Consulate, the Empire, the Monarchy of the Bourbons, the Empire and the Monarchy of the Bourbons for the second time, the Constitutional Monarchy of the Orleans, the Republic, the Empire, and eventually the Republic. From 1800 to 1900 France was under the administration of about eighteen different rulers, just the number of rulers that Haiti has had from 1804 to 1900. Forced to fly from France, four sovereigns, Napoleon I, Charles X, Louis-Philippe, and Napoleon III died in exile; and of the seven Presidents who from 1870 to 1900 ruled the Republic, one, Carnot, was assassinated, and four others, Thiers, McMahon, Grévy, and Casimir-Perrier, resigned before the expiration of their term of office.
I am merely stating facts without drawing any comparisons, my sole aim being to prove that Haiti is no exception to the general rule, and that what has taken place in her case has been the same in the case of other nations. Neither have some of her rulers escaped the fate of some of the French monarchs; but it is untrue to say that all of the Presidents have been compelled to seek safety abroad. Out of nineteen she has had in the course of a century five of them—Boyer, Hérard, Geffrard, Domingue, and Salomon—died away from their country; eight others—Pétion, Guerrier, Pierrot, Riché, Soulouque, Saget, Hyppolite, and Boisrond Canal—passed peacefully away in Haiti. One ex-President, Légitime, is still living in Port-au-Prince, where he is surrounded by the esteem and respect of his fellow-citizens.
Two rulers, Dessalines and Salnave, were put to death. This event, although much to be deplored, is not peculiar to Haiti. Other nations have also rightly or wrongly found themselves under the necessity of putting their rulers to death. Charles I was beheaded by the English, Louis XVI by the French, and Iturbide was condemned to be shot by the Mexicans. States, like individuals, commit errors. The errors of others are allowed to sink into oblivion, but not so with those of Haiti, which meet with implacable and lasting severity. Her most insignificant deeds are purposely exaggerated and misrepresented, with the sole aim of creating the impression that she is incapable of governing herself. People hasten to dignify mere riots or disturbances which elsewhere would not even have attracted the attention of the public, with the name of revolutions or insurrections. Some of the strikes in the United States, for instance, are more bloody and fraught with much more danger for the safety of the peaceful inhabitants of the disturbed locality, and cause many more victims, than many of the so-called revolutions in Haiti. The Washington Evening Star of May 3, 1905, printed the following concerning one of these strikes which occurred at Chicago: "There seems to be no power in the city to check the excesses and crimes of the mobs. The streets are not safe for the pedestrians. Traffic is crippled, trade is being ruined. Losses are mounting into millions and lives are being sacrificed. The processes of government are defied by the mob."
At Frankfort, Kentucky, the Governor-elect, Mr. Goebel, was murdered in the streets in broad daylight by his opponents, the disturbances which ensued lasting many weeks.
In Russia very grave events have taken place recently; for a while no life was safe and horrible massacres were of frequent occurrence.
All these things passed almost unnoticed; a few lines in the newspapers, and the cases were dismissed. But if, perchance, such events had occurred in Haiti, endless would have been the charges preferred against the character of the people; foreign Powers would have hastened to despatch men-of-war, under the fallacious pretext that the lives of their respective citizens were in jeopardy. And yet since the much to be regretted reprisals which followed the war of independence, the most hitter foes and detractors of the Haitians have never been able to quote a single case of foreigners having been killed during the political disturbances which have from time to time shaken the country. Nowhere do foreigners find greater protection and security than that which is granted by Haiti. There are instances in the United States when Italians and Austrians have been put to death by an infuriated mob. The closest examination of the history of Haiti and the events of daily occurrence will not reveal one instance of foreigners having been killed either by reason of their nationality, the color of their skins, of on account of the rivalry more or less great between them and the natives.
I do not mean to infer that Haiti has attained to perfection. Like other nations, she also has her imperfections. I am only trying, and I cannot repeat it too often, to lay before my readers the unjust treatment she has up to the present time met with. She does not deserve the needless calumnies with which she is overwhelmed.
Everything is made a pretext for turning Haiti into ridicule; even the number of her Constitutions brought forward as a subject of derision; whilst it appears quite natural that France, for instance, should have enacted the following twelve Constitutions from 1791 to 1875: the Constitutions of 1791, of the year I (1793), of the year III (1795), of the year VIII (1800) modified in 1802, of the year X (1804); the Charter of 1814; the Additional Article of 1815; the Constitutions of 1830, of 1848, of 1852; the imperial Constitution of 1852; the Constitution of 1875 modified in 1884.
From 1804 to 1889 Haiti was under the successive rule of the Constitutions of 1805, 1806, 1816, 1843, 1846, 1849, 1867, 1874, 1879, and 1889. Most of these Constitutions proceeded from two prototypes the Constitution of 1816, which organized a strong Executive Power, and the liberal Constitution of 1843; all others were modifications or adaptations which represented the reforms adopted or the progress realized. The people on each occasion issued the whole Constitution for greater convenience, naming it after the year in which the change was made; and this has given the impression that each Constitution was an entirely new one, differing essentially from all those which had previously been in force. But even if Haiti, like France, had enacted almost twelve Constitutions during the first eighty-four years of her existence, this should not be brought forward as an evidence of her incapacity for self-government, which her maligners lead others into believing. These changes would rather indicate a strong desire of bettering such institutions as were found to be inadequate or unsuitable to actual circumstances. It is surely pardonable in so young a nation as Haiti not to have succeeded from the very first in establishing and maintaining the best form of government, when older nations, like Russia for example, are still seeking after a proper political organization.
- One of these Englishmen, Sir Spenser St. John, could not help giving vent to his annoyance at the failure of the British in Saint-Domingue, especially at the loss of the Môle Saint-Nicolas (Haiti or the Black Republic, p. 58). In order to vindicate the defeat of his fellow-countrymen, he endeavors to produce the impression (p. 54) that the invading army numbered but few Englishmen, consisting for the most part of colored hirelings. In spite of this statement he says at page 57 that "The English became convinced that it was useless to attempt to conquer the island, and that their losses from sickness were enormous," adding in the foot note of page 58 that "it is humiliating to read of the stupidity of the chiefs at Port-au-Prince, who made the soldiers work at fortifications during the day and do duty at night; no wonder that we find a regiment of 600 strong losing 400 in two months, and the Eighty-second landing 950 men to be reduced in six weeks to 350."
The mention of the enormous losses from sickness leads to the belief that the English were numerous at Saint-Domingue, and that the army which Toussaint Louverture and Rigaud were successfully combatting did not consist solely of colored hirelings. Nobody thinks of questioning the courage and gallantry of the British soldiers; but Sir Spenser St. John was unwilling to make known the true cause of the failure of the English in Saint-Domingue without bringing into prominence the bravery of the soldiers of Toussaint Louverture and Rigaud; this cause being the intention of the English of re-establishing slavery. He hinted at this on page 46, but took care immediately to explain that sickness and treachery were the compelling motives in their evacuation of Saint-Domingue. Sir Spenser St. John, whose book is quite a bill of indictment against Haiti, seems unable to be impartial in his appreciation of the colored inhabitants of this country, even whilst they were yet under the French domination.
- Concerning the Congress of Panama, Mr. John W. Foster (A Century of American Diplomacy, p. 453) says: "The debates in the Congress of the United States were of a most acrimonious character, and were conducted upon domestic party lines, the opponents of the Administration almost unanimously voting against the mission. The two strong points of opposition were, first the objection to no alliance, especially an armed one, with any other nations; and, second, the recognition of the negro Republic of Haiti which opened up the slavery question."
- "Whatever success the Haitians have attained has been solely by their own unaided efforts. The Christian world, which looked with horror on the institution of slavery and cried loudly for its abolition, neglected this self-emancipated people when they most needed its help and aid. Although hardly three decades have passed since our country was inflamed with sentiments demanding the abolition of slavery, and eager to alleviate the condition of the freedmen, we have extended no aid or sympathy to the Haitians who first lifted the banner of emancipation on American soil." (Robert T. Hill, Cuba and Porto-Rico with the other Islands of the West Indies, p. 288.)
- John Ball was a priest; he demanded that all property should be equally divided and that all rank should be abolished. (D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 139.)
- It is interesting to note that the Haitian peasants also, when they rose in 1844, believed that the lawyers were responsible for the plight in which they found themselves. Page 196.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History.
- The name of Lollards was given to the followers of John Wycliffe, who, after attacking the religious and political corruption of his time, had organized the order of the "Poor Priests" in order to take up the work formerly accomplished by the "Mendicant Friars." In the beginning these friars led a life of self-sacrifice; they went from place to place preaching the Gospel and exhorting the people to penance; growing rich, they forgot their former duties. Coarsely clothed, barefooted, and staff in hand, the "Poor Priests" went from town to town preaching the law of God and demanding that church and state bring themselves in harmony with it. The Lollards afterward became socialists or communists. (D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History.)
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 223.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 265.
- One Titus Gates pretended that he had discovered a conspiracy (the Popish Plot) formed by the Catholics with a view to burn London, massacre the inhabitants, kill the King and restore the Roman religion. On the charge preferred by him many innocent persons were executed. (Ibid., p. 270.)
- Ibid., p. 278.
- Hallam's Constitutional History of England. Montgomery, op. cit., p. 284.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 320.
- Ibid., p. 295.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 337.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, p. 352.
- D. H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of English History, pp. 392, 397.
- Many detractors, the principal among them being Spenser St. John, affect to see a new evidence of the incapacity of the Haitians to govern themselves in the fact that agriculture is not as nourishing as they think it should be; yet the resources of Haiti cannot be compared with those of England where agriculture is causing so much concern. Very few foreigners take the trouble of looking for the economic causes when there is question of the condition of Haiti. If agriculture is not prosperous there are many who pretend that it is the fault of the Haitians, and hasten to charge them with being a lazy and indolent race; and when, as in England, the people desert the country and show a tendency to congregate in the towns Spenser St. John will affirm in all seriousness that cannibalism and have driven them from the fields; he does not care to go into the matter and find out whether like causes may produce like effects in England as in Haiti.
- R. Jallifier, Histoire Contemporaine, p. 142.