Essay on Haitian Declaration of Independence

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‘Liberté, égalité and fraternité’ are the influential words pinned to the French Revolution of 1789-1799. This rhetoric encapsulated ideas of reason promoted by Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, and later Abbe Sieyes in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and Maximilien Robespierre in 1790. France’s ‘global dimension’ meant ideas, especially liberty, spread, which is how the Revolution was influential due to the physical revolution of print and press, but the psychological communications revolution serves as why, as people wanted to copy France. ‘Revolution’ within this essay will mirror Annie Jourdan’s view that defines revolution ‘as a radical social, political and cultural transformation which destroys old structures and replaces them by new ones based on the natural rights of man’. Accordingly, this essay will argue that the French Revolution influenced later modern revolutionary movements through the physical and psychological communications revolution, where nations attempted to copy France’s idea of ‘liberty’, especially Saint Domingue and Ireland. However, Sebastian Conrad, argues that France psychologically encouraged the rethinking of Enlightenment’s ‘liberty’ in immoral and violent forms, as it was a tool for emancipation.

The physical communications revolution of print and social arenas spread the revolutionary rhetoric of ‘liberté, égalité and fraternité’. France acted as a transnational space and Pierre Serna views them as ‘the setting for intense movements of information, books, words and images’. This interconnectedness led to later modern revolutions that mirrored France’s language. The French Revolution itself was promoted by newspapers, the press, and social arenas such as masonic lodges, Jacobin clubs, and coffee houses. Print was a key vector of communication as it aided the press; in 1789, there were 36 printers and 194 booksellers and within a decade later, this number had tripled. Furthermore, by 1789, Paris had 1,600 cafes, which is poignant as ‘where there were cafes, there were most often also newspapers’. This created the realm of ideas, which recent historians view as vital for spreading revolutionary language. Furthermore, publications later influenced modern movements, poignantly Ireland, who ‘reacted most passionately to the ideals of the French Revolution’ as in 1792 they had 35 newspapers, where France acted as the central discussion. Ultán Gillen’s international approach details the impact of the French Revolution on Ireland, which ‘filled the pages of innumerable pamphlets’. The Fall of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 impacted discussions as the Irish ‘read the newspapers…[and] took informed positions’. Consequently, Desan conveys, ‘the communications revolution had an electrifying effect on the aspirations of people outside Europe’ as people read or heard of events in France and decided to interpret them for their liberation.

To link physical communication to psychological communication, France’s colony of Saint Domingue in 1791, can be examined as they attempted to mirror France. As a colony where slaves made up 500,000 of the population aside from 32,000 free people of color and 30-40,000 whites, they ‘engulfed’ and ‘seized’ France’s ideas of liberty. France’s revolution was driven through institutions, which influenced the outside world as words were at the heart of the revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from 26 August 1789, pushed ‘liberty’, as ‘language not only reflects but constructs identity’. Linking back to the physical communications revolution, news of the French Revolution arrived in 1790 and traveled through white colonists, who spoke about it in bookstores and masonic lodges. Furthermore, Mike Rapport argues that in France’s annexed territories, French systems of law and communications were formulated as people ‘engaged in political citizenship…in elections, in political clubs, and through debates in the press’. However, Jeremy Popkin notes, that slaves were illiterate, but this did not mean the revolutionary rhetoric could not be spread to them. They passed down the ‘language of freedom and natural rights’ they heard from their masters, for example, Julien Raimond’s brother, a planter in October 1789, who told people of the revolutionary colors of liberty and equality. The spread of language and symbols contributed to the success of their revolution as in January 1804, they published their Declaration of Independence. Therefore, the communications revolution was essential to their success as it allowed French revolutionary ideas to spread, which conveys how and why France influenced later modern movements.

Conversely, the new psychology, encouraged by France, allowed immoral interpretations of ‘liberty’. As the French rhetoric was based on Enlightenment views such as Immanuel Kant, one would assume it would follow a path of reason. However, Conrad’s work on the Enlightenment posits that instead language was reinvented for emancipation. This aspect of psychological rethinking, influenced by France’s idea of ‘liberty’, flowed through physical communications. Popkin’s extensive work on Saint Domingue conveys how Toussaint Louverture’s ‘declaration of freedom was very different from that of the French revolutionaries’ as he proceeded with agricultural labor and named himself governor in the 1801 constitution, which contrasts with France’s declaration in 1789 that all men are liberated. Desan links to Popkin’s work as she believed that neither France nor Toussaint ‘really sought to institutionalize republicanism’ as they proceeded with immoral practices. However, this view is pessimistic, as Saint Domingue and Ireland gained liberation in their contexts, which is supported by Jourdan’s idea of revolution as a ‘radical social, political and cultural transformation’. Despite this, the idea of ‘liberty’ was rethought by individuals as they copied France to use it as a tool for their emancipation.

Additionally, psychological rethinking led to violence as Conrad contributes that violence ‘unleashed by post-seventeenth century Europe in the name of Enlightenment values’ led to ‘the Third Reich, the Gulag, the Two World Wars, and the threat of nuclear annihilation’. Dorinda Outram supports this by viewing that the Enlightenment was the center of political terror, where the French Revolution promoted its rhetoric. Moreover, the language guided Vladimir Lenin’s Cheka, which executed enemies, and Adolf Hitler’s actions towards minorities through the Holocaust. The guillotine during the Jacobin Reign of Terror, where they sought enemies of the Revolution, made violence justifiable for Russia and Germany. Revolutionary language that was shared, gave people a tool for emancipation as they wanted liberty and saw the path as unlimited, which is why the French Revolution was influential.

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In conclusion, the French Revolution’s influence is found within the communications revolution, both physically and psychologically. People’s minds were evolving due to the spread of revolutionary language within print, clubs, and coffee houses. Ideas of liberty from the French Revolution attempted to be copied, for people's emancipation. However, France’s influence of ‘liberty’ meant interpretations as for Haiti, which meant the abolition of slavery but proceedings of labor, and for Russia and Germany, which meant socialism and the Aryan race, but the Cheka and Holocaust still occurred.

Sources Essay

With consideration to the argument put forward in the context essay, the sources essay will continue to place its focus on the communications revolution that took place due to the French Revolution. Individuals were thoroughly influenced by the actions of 1789-1799 and proceeded to make publications about it, as witnessed with both the Haitian Declaration of Independence of 1804 and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, 1791. These sources together are evidence of the use of language such as liberty and citizens, influenced by France. However, Toussaint Louverture’s language conveys the rethinking of liberty as there are undertones of despotism that run perpendicular to its true meaning. The weight of the sources is not only evident in their language, but the wider global impact the publications had, as Paine’s criticism of Edmund Burke created a mass discussion on both the French Revolution and American Revolution, whereas Louverture is primarily an example of the psychological rethinking of liberty. Essentially, both use ‘liberty’ in a similar tone to France, to justify revolutions as it was a tool towards emancipation.

Toussaint Louverture in January 1804 announced The Haitian Declaration of Independence, where ‘liberty’ was used as a tool for emancipation. Before 1804, the French colony was made up of 500,000 slaves along with 30-40,000 whites and 32,000 free people of color. Despite the French government announcing the abolition of slavery in 1794, slavery persisted. This meant that Saint Domingue, now referred to as Haiti, adopted France’s Enlightenment ideals of ‘liberté, équalité and fraternité’. Haiti’s Declaration examples this well as the reader, Toussaint Louverture, continuously regarded the audience as ‘native citizens, men, women, girls, and children’. This illustrates them as revolutionary peoples, similar to that of the French Revolution where it was the Third Estate of civilians who rose. These individuals gained their independence by using ‘liberty’, which in turn influenced Haiti because they wanted to mirror it. Poignantly, Toussaint refers to his people as ‘we’, which forms them as a collective, abstaining their colonial power over them. Therefore, the Declaration serves as an example of how psychological communication about liberty took place. However, the Enlightenment historian, Sebastian Conrad, espouses that Enlightenment language was not diffused correctly, but instead was reinvented by countries. Both Haiti and France reinvented the Enlightenment rhetoric of reason to justify their path to liberty. This aspect was influenced by France’s manipulation of liberty to gain liberation from the monarchical despot of Louis XVI. Despite claiming themselves as enlightened beings, who embodied ‘liberté, égalité and fraternité’, actions were taken involving the guillotine during the violent Jacobin years of 1791-1793, which involved extreme egalitarianism. Louis XVI’s execution on 21 January 1793 and the c1,500 people executed from March to August in 1794, is evidence of this. Consequently, ‘liberty’ was used as a tool for emancipation. The ‘Black Jacobin’, Toussaint reflects this as he orders the audience to ‘support the leader who commands you’ as he named himself governor in the 1801 constitution. Along with this, Louverture’s language and tone should be noted, as violent phrases were used against the French to create a heroic figure of himself, such as ‘tigers still dripping with…blood’. The overall oxymoronic tone of the Declaration is ironically monarchical as he wants to be worshipped because he uses ‘let’ frequently, which assumes that Toussaint is granting them life from a privileged position. However, this contrasts with his previous use of collectives such as ‘we’ and ‘citizens’. Furthermore, Louverture’s claim of ‘anathema’ to the French, which is an attempt to disgrace France and put a curse on them, goes directly against Enlightenment ideals of liberty, as Immanuel Kant wanted everyone to be a ‘world society of citizens’. This contrast links to the argument of the context essay, where international Haitian historians such as Suzanne Desan and Jeremy Popkin argue that neither France nor Toussaint ‘really sought to institutionalize republicanism in Saint Domingue’. Instead, they used the language of Enlightenment and ‘various constitutional documents produced in France’ to justify their needs. Notably, other declarations such as Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence in 1945, used language from the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen because it was a way to justify their actions. This tool for liberation was passed through the physical communications revolution of print and social spaces. Even Haiti’s emancipation would later be used in Jamaica so they could liberate themselves from slavery. This corroborates the argument that the French Revolution’s influence is found in the communications revolution as declarations were ‘movable’ by promoting words such as ‘citizen’ and ‘liberty’, even if not used in the correct sense.

In the same light the second source, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man in 1791 can be used to highlight how the French Revolution’s influence is found in the communications revolution. The source is a criticism of Edmund Burke’s ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, where he attacked France’s Revolution. Even though both supported the American Revolution between 1765 and 1783, their views differed on France. Paine argued within the source, with evidence from the American Revolution, that the only way for France to release themselves from despotism was a popular political revolution, despite ‘reason [being] considered as rebellion’. Paine’s argument includes France’s interpretations of ‘Reason and Liberty’, which was used as a tool for emancipation. This debate between Paine and Burke, which was inspired by the French Revolution, encouraged discussions of revolution abroad, which shows France’s global impact. Furthermore, he referenced Kant’s idea of the world as a state of society, which later influenced revolutions such as Russia, which used this language to impose socialism. This language not only influenced the East but in Ireland too, where ‘Paine strengthened reforming opinion in favor of the Revolution’. The Irish Revolution, led by Wolfe Tone, was heavily influenced by the Burke-Paine debate as ideas of reason were spread throughout the nation. Furthermore, Burke himself was an Irish statesman, which meant the debate was close to home for the Irish. Poignantly, ‘Protestant radicals, particularly in Belfast and Dublin were enthused’ by the debate and in October 1791, the Society of the United Irishmen was formed in Belfast. As Paine predicted in the source, this was because ‘nature appears to [people]…in magnitude’, which shows how influential ideas of liberty were. However, the Rights of Man provides more weight through its provenance as it is a key example of how discussions about the French Revolution influenced later modern revolutionary movements. About the physical revolution of print, Paine reprinted his book, which was read in social arenas, and by May 1791, 50,000 copies were in circulation. Without the French Revolution, these ideas would not have been disseminated. Furthermore, George Rude supports this as he notes how one million copies were sold, which were ‘eagerly read by reformers, Protestant dissenters, democrats, landed craftsmen, and the skilled factory hands of the new industrial north’. Without print, Paine’s debate over the French Revolution and whether it was valid, would not have been spread. Furthermore, Paine’s influential message inspired by both the American and French Revolutions of ‘man must go back to Nature for information’ would not have had its impact. Consequently, the French Revolution influenced Paine’s Rights of Man due to the revolutionary rhetoric of their institutions, such as print and social arenas, which were key to the success of the revolution. Paine copied the language, leading other countries to do the same as well as copying France’s institutions for communication.

To conclude, the message of these sources is that man must find their liberty as France did. However, within both this essay and the context essay, it is evident that individuals reinterpreted language. This is where the French are responsible due to their immoral examples of liberty such as the use of the guillotine. Therefore, France’s ‘liberté’ rhetoric changed people psychologically to see it as a tool for emancipation, which spread through physical communications, where print, press, coffee houses, and clubs, formed discussions leading to revolutions abroad.

Bibliography - Context

    1. Bayly, Christopher, The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914, 1sted, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)
    2. Childers, Thomas, ‘Political Sociology and the “Linguistic Turn”, Central European History, vol.22, no.34, (1989), 381-393
    3. Conrad, Sebastian, ‘Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique’, The American Historical Review, vol.117, no.4, (2012), 999-1027
    4. Desan, Suzanne, ‘Internationalising the French Revolution’, French Politics, Culture and Society, vol.29, no.2, (2011), 137-160
    5. Forrest, Alan and Middell, Matthias, ‘Introduction’, in The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History, ed. by Alan Forrest and Matthias Middell, (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp.1-21
    6. Gillen, Ultán, ‘Irish revolutionaries and the French Revolution’, in The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History, ed. by Alan Forrest and Matthias Middell, (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp.225-240
    7. Hobson, Christopher, The Rise of Democracy: Revolution, War and Transformations in International Politics since 1776, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015)
    8. Hunt, Lynn, ‘The French Revolution in Global Context’ in The age of revolutions in a global context, c.1760-1840, ed. by David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp.20-36
    9. ----and Censer, Jack, The French Revolution and Napoleon: Crucible of the Modern World, (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)
    10. Jourdan, Annie, ‘Napoleon and Europe: The Legacy of the French Revolution’, in The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History, ed. by Alan Forrest and Matthias Middell, (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp.207-224
    11. Outram, Dorinda, The Enlightenment, 3rded, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
    12. Petrey, Sandy, ‘Introduction: Meaning in action, action in meaning’, in The French Revolution, 1789-1989, ed. by Sandy Petrey, (Texas: Texas Tech. University Press, 1989)
    13. Popkin, Jeremy, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution, 1sted, (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2012)
    14. Rapport, Mike, ‘The International Repercussions of the French Revolution’, in A Companion to the French Revolution, ed. by Peter McPhee, 1sted, (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), pp.381-396
    15. Serna, Pierre, ‘The Sister Republics, or the ephemeral invention of a French Republican Commonwealth’ in The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History, ed. by Alan Forrest and Matthias Middell, (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp.39-60

Bibliography – Sources

    1. Armitage, David, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008)
    2. Conrad, Sebastian, ‘Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique’, The American Historical Review, vol.117, no.4, (2012), 999-1027
    3. Desan, Suzanne, ‘Internationalising the French Revolution’, French Politics, Culture and Society, vol.29, no.2, (2011), 137-160
    4. Gillen, Ultán, ‘Irish revolutionaries and the French Revolution’, in The Routledge Companion to the French Revolution in World History, ed. by Alan Forrest and Matthias Middell, (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp.225-240
    5. Haitian Declaration of Independence
    6. Kant, Immanuel, ‘What is Enlightenment?’
    7. Popkin, Jeremy, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution, 1sted, (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2012)
    8. Rapport, Mike, ‘The International Repercussions of the French Revolution’, in A Companion to the French Revolution, ed. by Peter McPhee, 1sted, (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), pp.381-396
    9. Rights of Man, 1791
    10. Rude, George, Revolutionary Europe, 1783-1815, (London: Fontana, 1964)
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