We take the size of the US for granted, that it was somehow foreordained that it would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. We sing, “This land is your land, this land is my land – from California to the New York Island.”
However, America may have been limited to the East Coast – or even ceased to exist in the 19th century had it not been for the Haitian Revolution. When Jean Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), he defeated Napoleon – said to be “the world’s greatest general”.
At the same time, Dessalines – the head of a tiny slave island – defeated England and Spain! These were the world’s three great maritime superpowers at the time. The US had just barely won the war against Britain!
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the US from 1801-1809. Because the Haitian Revolution bankrupted France, Napoleon had to abandon his plan to fight tiny America and sold his vast lands to President Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase.
That immediately almost doubled the size of America – adding six states and parts of eight others. It also gave the US access to the Oregon Territory and later Alaska (protecting the US from Russia). It also allowed the US to later steal one third of Mexico for the Southwest in the war with Mexico.
Clearly, Jean-Jacques Dessalines is the world’s greatest general – at least since Hannibal in the Second Punic War against Rome.
While the famous slave revolt in Rome by Spartacus failed, it was celebrated in the 1960 film Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas!
Hollywood celebrated a failed slave rebellion thousands of years ago in Europe, but ignores a spectacularly successful one that saved America. Why is that?
America pays little or no attention to Haiti today – and almost all of it is negative. The US owes a great debt to the courage of the Haitian people and their skillful leadership.
Yet, America always looks down on Haiti as a backward nation that can’t govern itself. “How the Clinton Foundation Got Rich off Poor Haitians” shows that Bill and Hillary Clinton stole millions of dollars entrusted to them for the recovery of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Actor Danny Glover wanted to make a film about the Haitian Revolution, but got no support from Hollywood. The reason given was that the story does not include White heroes!!
The success of the Black Panther film shows how short-sighted that was. However, perhaps that worked out for the best because Glover was going to feature Toussaint L’Ouverture (a Francophile who was imprisoned by France and died in jail) rather than Jean Jacques Dessalines.
Imagine America today if it were just on the East Coast, if Haiti had not won the revolution and Jefferson had not made the Louisiana Purchase, perhaps his greatest achievement as President.
Even if the US had not been conquered by France, Spain, or England, it would not be the nation it is today. It would not have the resources, the wealth, the security, or the power we take so much for granted now.
It would not be a world superpower.
Perhaps it is time now for America to recognize its debt to Haiti whose skill and courage allowed this country to continue to exist and to expand from the New York Island to California.
Napoleon’s Attitude Toward Haiti
“We’ve Never Forgiven Haiti for Being Black” points out:
American public policy surrounding Haiti still contributes to ongoing misery there today—including conditions that have erupted in protests in recent weeks. Thomas Jefferson encouraged Napoleon Bonaparte to take back French control of the island. Napoleon’s sights were set on establishing French power in New Orleans, but he was compelled to recapture Saint Domingue too. While New Orleans was a business matter to the French despot, Saint Domingue was also a personal one, built on thwarting black self-determination.
However, Napoleon was defeated.
Ultimately, Napoleon abandoned his campaign for a French empire in the region, and ceded the Louisiana Territory, including New Orleans, to the United States. Jefferson offered $10 million for New Orleans in 1800; Napoleon sold all of Louisiana for $15 million in 1803.
The Louisiana Purchase allowed Jefferson to get 827 square miles for $15 million.
Under Jean Jacques Dessalines, the country’s 1805 Constitution reaffirmed the abolition of slavery and erased color distinctions—all citizens of the nation were identified as black in the eyes of the law. Nothing signified this more symbolically than Dessalines ripping the white from the French flag to create a new one for Haiti. But Haitians were caught between a rock and a hard place. The western powers colluded to never allow Haiti to rebuild, burdening it with war reparations or a threat of perpetual war. Haiti would never receive the opportunity to build its society using the riches of the land that western empires would continue to exploit.
Successive U.S. governments denied Haiti’s place as the first true democracy of the western hemisphere; acknowledging the Haitian independence would mean facing its own failure to live up to its own declaration that all men and women are created equal. Acknowledging Haiti would have been a blow to racial capitalism and an admission that whiteness was not supreme over blackness. The U.S. did not recognize the sovereignty of the nation until 1862.
Louisiana Purchase Expanded Slavery
The book Slavery and the Making of America by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton is a companion to the PBS Series which is now available as a DVD and the four episodes are free on Amazon Prime. The Amazon description says:
The history of slavery is central to understanding the history of the United States. Readers will discover a wide ranging and sharply nuanced look at American slavery, from the first Africans brought to British colonies in the early seventeenth century to the end of Reconstruction.
The book explains that the Haitian Revolution gave America the rare opportunity to immediately double the size of the nation – which led to a huge expansion of slavery. It adds:
Like most American slaveholders, Jefferson feared the existence of the independent black nation of Haiti in the West Indies…Despite his stated belief in revolutionary struggles for liberty, his administration.… refused to recognize the new nation. Jefferson signed a trade embargo against Haiti in February 1806 at the request of the French.
The Louisiana Purchase provided eastern planters with new opportunities to make their fortunes in cotton production. Large and small planters moved thousands of slaves southwestward into the new territory….During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, cotton increased from representing slightly more than 7 percent of American exported goods to being the single most valuable export of the entire nation.
The Louisiana Purchase was one of history’s greatest bargains, a chance for the United States to buy what promised to be one of France’s largest and wealthiest territories and eliminate a European threat in the process. But the purchase was also fueled by a slave revolt in Haiti—and tragically, it ended up expanding slavery in the United States.
It would have seemed unthinkable for France to cede any of its colonial territory before 1791…. France was in shock, and Napoleon began to realize that his dream of a French empire in the Americas might be doomed. He’d planned to send troops to Louisiana to take over the colony, which he had received from the Spanish through a secret treaty in 1800, in the hopes of using the territory as a trade venue for the commodities produced in Haiti. But if Haiti was under the control of the slaves, his plan was for naught.