island. On the 5th of January, 1805, General Ferrand, who was in command of this portion of the country, ordered a sudden attack upon the Haitians, among whom only those under 14 years of age were to be taken prisoners, the others being destined evidently to be massacred; the boys and the girls under 10 years were to be sold and kept on the plantations of the colony; whilst those between the ages of 12 and 14 years were to be sold and deported.
To avenge this barbarous decree, Dessalines, at the head of 25,000 soldiers, invaded the Spanish territory. He started on February 16, and on the 6th of March his army, victorious in every encounter, began to lay siege to Santo Domingo, which would undoubtedly have fallen before him had not a French squadron appeared with reinforcements on March 27. Fearing the possibility of French troops being landed on the coasts of Haiti during his absence, Dessalines was obliged to raise the siege and to evacuate the whole of the Spanish portion. His apprehensions were happily unfounded: the French had made no hostile demonstrations against Haiti. Nevertheless, Dessalines took all precautionary measures. He availed himself of the opportunity to organize his Empire. On the 20th of May, 1805, the first Haitian Constitution was proclaimed. Slavery was forever abolished. Dessalines, whose surroundings and early training had not been such as would tend to fit him to act the part of law-maker, proved to be an able one. He enacted a military penal code, laws concerning illegitimate children and divorce and a law establishing the courts and their jurisdiction. By decrees he settled the respective limits of the military divisions of the territory; he opened some ports to commerce with foreign countries; he regulated the coasting trade and established import and export taxes.
Notwithstanding all his excellent good qualities, he was a man with whom it was hard to agree. Above all, Dessalines was a man of action, and he owed his success to his untiring energy and to the use of force. Slave, soldier, or general, he accepted or enjoined discipline: