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Toussaint's Clause

Toussaint's Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution

Gordon S. Brown
Copyright Date: 2005
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    Toussaint's Clause
    Book Description:

    In its formative years, America, birthplace of a revolution, wrestled with a volatile dilemma. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and many other founding fathers clashed. What was to be the new republic's strategy toward a revolution roiling just off its shores?

    From 1790 to 1810, the disagreement reverberated far beyond Caribbean waters and American coastal ports. War between France and Britain, the great powers of the time, raged on the seas and in Europe. America watched aghast as its trading partner Haiti, a rich hothouse of sugar plantations and French colonial profit, exploded in a rebellion led by former slave Toussaint L'Ouverture.

    Toussaint's Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolutionnarrates the intricate history of one of America's early foreign policy balancing acts and one of the nation's defining moments. The supporters of Toussaint's rebellion against France at first engineered a bold policy of intervention in favor of the rebels. But Southern slaveholders, such as Jefferson, eyed the slave-general's rise and masterful leadership skills with extreme alarm and eventually obtained a reversal of the policy-even while taking advantage of the rebellion to make the fateful Louisiana purchase.

    Far from petty, the internal squabbles among America's founders resolved themselves in delicate maneuvers in foreign capitals and on the island. The stakes were mortally high-a misstep could have plunged the new, weak, and neutral republic into the great powers' global war. In Toussaint's Clause, former diplomat and ambassador Gordon S. Brown details the founding fathers' crisis over Haiti and their rancorous struggle, which very often cut to the core of what America meant by revolution and liberty.

    During a thirty-five-year Foreign Service career, Gordon S. Brown served mainly in the Middle East and North Africa including assignments as General Norman Schwarzkopf's political advisor in the first Gulf War and ambassador to Mauritania. Since his retirement, he has writtenCoalition, Coercion, and Compromiseon the diplomacy of the first Gulf War andThe Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-697-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    Kenneth L. Brown and Robert L. Funseth

    For nearly 230 years extraordinary men and women have represented the United States abroad under all kinds of circumstances. What they did and how and why they did it remain little known to their compatriots. In 1995 the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) and Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR) created a book series to increase public knowledge and appreciation of the involvement of American diplomats in world history. The series seeks to demystify diplomacy by telling the story of those who have conducted our foreign relations, as they lived, observed, and reported them. Former ambassador Gordon Brown’s...

    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-7)

    Three revolutions reshaped western political thinking at the end of the eighteenth century. The first was the American war for independence, which began as a colonial rebellion calling for greater political liberty, and in time gave birth to the first modern republic. The new American state had scarcely established itself before the second, and then the third, revolution broke out.

    The French Revolution pursued the same republican ideal, but went a step further: it encompassed revolutionarily social as well as political goals. Embracing the principle of equality in addition to that of liberty, the French not only threw off the...

  6. JULY 1790
    (pp. 8-22)

    Since the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday in 1790, the official celebrations were held on the following Monday. In New York, capital of the fledgling federal government, the citizens set aside their usual preoccupations and turned over the day, as a reporter put it, to “the little gods of festive mirth and conviviality.”¹ There were good reasons for the festival atmosphere, too. Finally, years after the last battles against Britain, the full benefits of independence seemed attainable. The new general government, as many called the federal system created by the two-year-old constitution, had begun to organize the finances...

    (pp. 23-44)

    The Pearl of the Antilles, St. Domingue was the pride, and the richest, of France’s colonies. An astonishing, half century-long boom on the island had spawned majestic fortunes, incomparable luxury, and dizzying profits, all based on sugar, and a brutal plantation system that produced it. Much of France, too, benefited from the island’s prosperity. Merchant houses in the mother country—in Bordeaux in particular—waxed fat on the trade; the French merchant marine blossomed; French grain growers and consumer goods makers had full order books; and the tax collectors made sure the royal court got its share of the profits....

    (pp. 45-65)

    What Vincent Ogé had been unable to obtain by his hapless and tragic revolt, his gruesome death achieved. His legacy did not, however, emerge immediately in St. Domingo, where the governing white planters and officials still congratulated themselves for having gotten rid of a troublemaker. The reaction to his death came instead from revolutionary Paris.

    The revolution, turbulent as it was, had not yet descended to the level at which political murder was an everyday occurrence. Thus, the news of Ogé’s martyrdom, when it reached Paris, truly shocked his old friends and colleagues. More than that, it mobilized them. The...

    (pp. 66-88)

    President Washington was troubled by the outbreak of war in Europe. He and his cabinet colleagues knew that their country would inevitably be drawn into the dispute, if not the actual war. Previous wars between Britain, Spain, and France had been fought in the Americas as well as on the old continent, and the United States’ new independence was not enough to isolate it from the coming hostilities. Although many Americans asked nothing more than to be left out of the Europeans’ wars so they could develop their country’s western territories, there was no way the United States could remain...

    (pp. 89-105)

    The stormy march of Citizen Genêt across the American political scene had blown the Gironde government’s hopes for a treaty of alliance well off the diplomatic highway. Genêt’s aspiration of mobilizing broad American sympathy for French policy had fared no better. His enthusiasm, most certainly, had energized the pro-French groups, provided them with a mission, and expanded their rolls. But that was not success. The very activism of France’s friends, and the outrageousness of Genêt’s defiance of the administration had, instead, spurred on those whose interests or sympathies lay with Great Britain. People were taking sides. The arrival of the...

    (pp. 106-125)

    The ship slipped quietly out of Philadelphia’s port on a cold day in December 1794, before the customs collector knew it was gone, and headed downriver toward the sea. The collector was not fooled for long, however; he had been keeping an eye on the vessel, calledLes Jumeaux, as it was being fitted up. His suspicions had been raised when the ship’s agent, a Mr. Guenet, had installed four cannon on board and loaded small arms, in addition to the usual equipment of an innocent merchantman. Now, the ship’s surreptitious departure heightened the customs official’s suspicion that the vessel...

    (pp. 126-143)

    The XYZ Affair was like a torch put to a haystack. Americans had become increasingly frustrated by the demands of neutrality during a war that seemed to allow the belligerent powers to push around the less powerful. Many wanted the government to take sides. Certainly, the two political parties already had done so, despite the warning that President Washington had given in his farewell address that “foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of representative government.”

    Three years earlier, indignation and war fever had been focused on Britain and its naval seizures. Jay’s mission and treaty had damped...

    (pp. 144-161)

    On the very day that President Adams signed the new ban on trade with France, the first significant American victory in the now open but undeclared war took place. Off St. Nevis in the West Indies, theConstellationdefeated and captured the French frigateL’Insurgente,reputed to be the fastest ship in the French Navy. This new “quasi-war,” as historians have called it, was nonetheless real enough at the time, and its action was centered in the strategically important West Indies, where the fate of St. Domingo was crucial both in the context of American-French hostilities and in the longer-term...

    (pp. 162-178)

    The USSGeneral Green—soon to play a role in the St. Domingo story—was fitting out for duty in the West Indies, and the Boston papers advertised for men to serve:

    All able bodied and ordinary Seamen who wish to serve their Country, on board the U.S. FrigateGeneral Greene,Christopher Raymond Perry, Commander, now lying in at Newport, may have an opportunity of entering, by applying at the House of Mrs. Broaders in Fore Street, where a Rendezvous is opened for that purpose, and where the Terms will be made known.

    Where the INJURIES and INSULTS of our...

    (pp. 179-198)

    “We are all republicans, we are all federalists,” Jefferson said in his inaugural message to Congress. It was, to be sure, a nice rhetorical flourish, but it was also a true sentiment. The new president hoped that the defeat of the arch-Federalists meant a permanent political eclipse of their views, ones that he considered to be profoundly antirepublican, even monarchical. Moreover, the margin of his victory had been very close (as well as made possible largely through the split between the Adams and Hamilton camps), and consequently he needed to conciliate the Federalist middle-of the-roaders. It was, indeed, a good...

    (pp. 199-212)

    Napoleon may not have been ready to show his hand with respect to Louisiana, but his determination to reestablish French authority over St. Domingo had already begun to be clear by October 1801, when terms of the peace with Britain were initialed. Previous plans for the island, which had involved sending still more commissioners and a small number of troops to rein in Toussaint, could now be scrapped. Once the Royal Navy had been neutralized by the peace accord, France would be able once again to send a large expedition into the Caribbean and bring about the submission of its...

    (pp. 213-228)

    Even as Jefferson struggled to find an amicable way to counter, delay, or frustrate France’s ambitious strategy, America’s day-to-day relations with Leclerc and his expedition had slipped from bad to worse.

    Leclerc’s dismissal of Lear was regretted quietly in official Washington, but resented strongly in maritime circles, where the action was seen as a first step toward closing American merchants out of the trade entirely. In response, the Federalist press attacks against Leclerc became still more pointed, with one paper running a letter that advised, “On no account make shipments to this place. The government (if such it may be...

    (pp. 229-244)

    On January 1, 1804, at Gonaives, the victorious native generals who had expelled the French declared their country to be independent. It was to be a new start. Even the French name of St. Domingue was dropped; the new country was to be called by an old indigenous name, Haiti. The generals, most prominently Dessalines, Pétion, Christophe, Clairvaux, and Geffrard, swore to “renounce France forever, to die rather than live under its domination, and to combat with their last breath for Independence.”¹ They also appointed Dessalines, their most dynamic and determined fighter, to be general in chief for life, for...

    (pp. 245-262)

    In May 1804, as the bellicose and confident Napoleon Bonaparte was crowning himself emperor of a stable and prosperous France, the Addington government in London collapsed from its own weakness, and the great statesman and Francophobe William Pitt the Younger was called back as wartime prime minister. In ill health and deep in debt, Pitt had lost much of his fire but none of his determination. Within weeks, he moved forcefully to strengthen English defenses and lay the groundwork for still another great coalition against the old enemy, France. The struggle between the two great powers was moving to a...

    (pp. 263-278)

    The Clearance Act, of course, did not solve the problem. Virtually everyone involved in the legislation realized that it offered too many loopholes to be able to stop the armed trade. And even if it had done so, the French persisted in considering the entire trade with the rebels, armed or not, contraband or not, an unfriendly and perhaps even illegal practice. Indeed, some of Jefferson’s supporters agreed with the French position, among them Congressman Eppes, Senator Logan, and even Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin. The influential Gallatin had called the trade “altogether illegal,” and argued that the United States...

    (pp. 279-291)

    When the congressional session adjourned at the beginning of March 1806, President Jefferson could be satisfied with the foreign policy results he had achieved. To manage the crisis with Britain, he had been given some promising tools to work with. The Congress had passed a Non-Importation Act, which barred the import from Britain of a variety of manufactured products for which there were American or other substitutes. The objective was to hurt the British economy in retaliation for the damage to American shipping, perhaps gaining some negotiating leverage in the process while promoting domestic manufacturing. The British West Indian trade...

    (pp. 292-295)

    For over fifty years after the embargo was repealed, Americans continued to conduct a modest trade with Haiti, even while shunning the new nation politically. It was no longer a high-risk, high-profit trade, and it was not without its troubles. King Henri, as General Christophe came to be called, preferred to do business with the British, and in 1811 he became in engaged in a commercial dispute with American traders that spoiled trade with the northern part of the island for years. Pétion, on the other hand, was slightly more ready to encourage Americans, and even made efforts to promote...

  23. NOTES
    (pp. 296-309)
    (pp. 310-316)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 317-321)