Haitian Revolutions: Crash Course World History #30


Hi, I’m John Green. This is Crash Course
World History. And apparently it’s Revolutions Month here at Crash Course, because today
we are going to discuss the often-neglected Haitian Revolutions. The Haitian Revolutions
are totally fascinating and they involve two of my very favorite things:
1. Ending slavery, and 2. Napoleon getting his feelings hurt. I can’t
help myself, Napoleon. I like to see you suffer. [theme music] So, the French colony in Saint-Domingue began
in the 17th century as a pirate outpost. And its original French inhabitants made their
living selling leather and a kind of smoked beef called boucan. All that beef actually
came from cattle left behind by the Spanish, who were the first Europeans to settle the
island. But anyway, after 1640, the boucan-sellers
started to run low on beef. And they were like, “You know what would pay better than
selling beef jerky? Robbing Spanish galleons,” which as you’ll recall were loaded with
silver mined from South America. So, by the middle of the 17th century, the French had
convinced many of those buccaneering captains to give up their pirating and settle on the
island. Many of them invested some of their pirate
treasure in sugar plantations, which, by 1700 were thriving at both producing sugar and
working people to death. And soon, this island was the most valuable colony in the West Indies,
and possibly in the world. It produced 40% of Europe’s sugar, 60% of its coffee, and it was
home to more slaves than any place except Brazil. And as you’ll recall from our discussion
of Atlantic slavery, being a slave in a sugar-production colony was exceptionally brutal. In fact,
by the late 18th century, more slaves were imported to Saint-Domingue EVERY YEAR— more
than 40,000— than the entire white population of the island. By the 19th century, slaves
made up about 90% of the population. And most of those slaves were African born,
because the brutal living and working conditions prevented natural population growth. Like,
remember Alfred Crosby’s fantastic line, “it is crudely true that if man’s caloric
intake is sufficient, he will somehow stagger to maturity, and he will reproduce?” Yeah,
well, not in 18th century Haiti, thanks to Yellow Fever and smallpox and just miserable
working conditions. So, most of these plantations were pretty large, they often had more than
200 slaves, and many of the field workers— in some cases, a majority— were women. Colonial society in Saint-Domingue was divided
into four groups, which had important consequences for the revolution. At the top, were the Big
White planters who owned the plantations and all the slaves. Often these Grand Blancs were
absentee landlords who would just rather stay in France and let their agents do, you know,
the actual brutality. Below them were the wealthy free people of
color. Most of the Frenchmen who came to the island were, you know, men, and they frequently
fathered children with slave women. These fathers would often free their children. Wasn’t
that generous of them. So, by 1789, there were 24,800 free people of color along with
about 30,000 white people in the colony. The free people of color contributed a lot to
the island’s stability. They served in the militia, and in the local constabulary, and
many of the wealthier ones eventually owned plantations and slaves of their own. And then, below them on the social ladder were
the poor whites, or the petit blancs, who worked as artisans and laborers. And at the bottom were
the slaves who made up the overwhelming majority. I know what you’re thinking: this is a recipe
for permanent social stability. No, it wasn’t. Okay, so when the French Revolution broke
out in 1789, all these groups had something to complain about. The slaves, obviously,
disliked being slaves. The free people of color were still subject to legal discrimination,
no matter how wealthy they became. And the poor whites, in addition to being
poor, were resentful of all the privileges held by the wealthy people of color. And the
Grand Blancs were complaining about French trade laws and the government’s attempts
to slightly improve the living and working conditions of slaves. Basically they were
saying that government shouldn’t be in the business of regulating business. So everyone
was unhappy, but the slaves were by far the worst off. Mr. Green, Mr. Green! You’re always saying
how much slavery sucks, but is it really any worse than having to work for, like, subsis… Yeah, I’m gonna stop you right there, Me
from the Past, before you further embarrass yourself. You often hear from people attempting
to comprehend the horrors of slavery that slavery couldn’t have been all that bad,
and that it wasn’t that different from working for minimum wage. And that we know this because
if it HAD been so bad, slaves would have just revolted, which they never did. Yeah. Well,
1. equating slavery to poor working conditions ignores the fact that if you work at, like,
Foxconn, Foxconn doesn’t get to sell your children to other corporations. And
2. As you are about to see, SLAVES DID REVOLT. So, the unrest in what became Haiti started
in 1789 when some slaves heard a rumor that the King of France had freed them. Even though
it was across the ocean, word of the changes in France reached the people of Haiti, where
The Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, while terrifying to planters, gave hope both
to free people of color and to slaves. At the same time, some petit blancs argued
that there was inadequate discrimination against blacks. They identified with the third estate
in France, and they called for interest rates to be lowered so they could more easily pay their debts.
And they began lobbying for colonial independence. The psychology here shows you the extent to
which slaves were not considered people. I mean, these radical petit blancs thought that
they were the oppressed people in Saint-Domingue because they couldn’t afford to own slaves.
And they thought if they could become independent from France, they could take power from the
people of privilege and institute a democracy where everyone had a voice– except for the
95% of people who weren’t white. Then in 1791, these radical petit blancs seized
the city of Port-au-Prince. You’ll remember that by 1791, France was at war with most
of Europe, and just like with the 7 Years’ War, the wars of Revolutionary France played
out in the colonies as well as at home. So the French government sent troops to Saint-Domingue. Meanwhile, urges toward liberty, fraternity,
and equality were only growing in France, and it didn’t seem very equitable to grant
citizenship based solely on race. So in May of 1791, the National Assembly gave full French
citizenship to all free men of color. I mean, if they owned property, and had enough money,
and weren’t the children of slaves. The petit blancs weren’t thrilled about this,
and that led to fighting breaking out between them and the newly French free people of color. And then in August of 1791, the slaves were
like, “Um, hi, yes. Screw all of you.” And a massive slave revolt broke out. Among
the leaders of this revolt was Toussaint Breda, a former slave of full African descent, who later
took the name Toussaint L’ouverture. L’Ouverture helped mold the slaves into a disciplined army
that could withstand attacks from the French troops. But again, the context of the wider revolution
proves really important here. So, the Spanish had consistently supported slave revolts in
Saint-Domingue hoping to weaken the French. But, by 1793 they were offering even more
support. In fact, L’Ouverture became an officer in the Spanish military because the
emancipation of the slaves was more important to him than maintaining his rights as a French
Citizen. So then, in October of 1793 the British, whom
as I’m sure you’ll recall were also at war with France, decided to invade Saint-Domingue.
And at that point, the French military commanders were like, We are definitely going to lose
this war if we fight the British, the Spanish, and the slaves, so let’s free the slaves.
So they issued decrees freeing the slaves and on February 4, 1794 the National Convention
in Paris ratified those decrees. By May, having learned of the Convention’s
actions, L’Ouverture switched allegiances to the French and turned the tide of the war.
Thus, the most successful slave revolt in human history won freedom and citizenship
for every slave in the French Caribbean. But emancipation didn’t end the story because
the French were still at war with the Spanish and the English in Saint-Domingue. Luckily
for France, L’Ouverture was an excellent general, and luckily for the people of the
island, L’Ouverture was also an able politician. And between 1794 and 1802, he successfully
steered the colony toward independence. So, although slavery was abolished, this didn’t
end the plantation system because both L’Ouverture and his compatriot André Rigaud believed
that sugar was vital to the economic health of the island. But now at least people were
paid for their labor and their kids couldn’t be sold. Now you can compare it to Foxconn. But soon, L’Ouverture and Rigaud came into
conflict over Rigaud’s refusal to give up control over one of the Southern states on
the island, and there was a civil war, which L’Ouverture, with the help of his able lieutenant
Jacques Dessalines, was able to win after 13 months of hard fighting. L’Ouverture
then passed a new constitution, and things were going pretty well on Saint-Domingue with
the small problem that it was still technically part of France, which meant that it was about to be ruled by
Napoleon Bonaparte. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. So, in 1799, Napoleon seized power in France
in a coup. And, his new regime, called the Consulate (because he was the First Consul
à la the Roman Republic) established a new constitution that specifically pointed out its
laws did not apply to France’s overseas colonies. Napoleon had plans to reconstruct France’s
empire in North America that it had lost most of in the 7 Years’ War, and to do this he
needed tons of money from France’s most valuable colony, Saint-Domingue. And the best
way to maximize profits? Why, to reintroduce slavery, of course. That’s certainly what
the former slaves thought was the plan when in 1802, a French expedition commanded by
Napoleon’s brother in-law Charles-Victor-Emmanuel “I-Have-Too-Many-Names” Leclerc showed
up in Saint-Domingue. This started the second phase of the Haitian
revolution, the fight for independence. So, Leclerc eventually had L’Ouverture arrested
and shipped to France where he died in prison in 1803. But this itself did not spark an
uprising against the French because L’Ouverture wasn’t actually that popular, largely because he wanted
most blacks on the island to continue to grow sugar. Instead, the former slaves only started fighting
when Leclerc tried to take away their guns, thus beginning a guerrilla war that the French,
despite their superior training and weapons, had absolutely no chance of winning. Although
the French were exceedingly cruel, executing women as well as men and importing man-eating
dogs from Cuba, the Haitians had the best ally of all: Disease, specifically in the
form of Yellow Fever, which killed thousands of French soldiers, including Leclerc himself.
Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? Stan! Where is my chair? Stan, you’re telling
me the yellow chair has been lost? The yellow chair is the star of the show. The stars,
in order, are 1. me, 2. yellow chair, 3. the chalkboard, 4. Danica, 5. Meredith the Intern,
6. you, Stan. You’re sixth. Oh, I’m mad. Let’s see what’s in the secret compartment
today. It’s a giant squid of anger!!! I’M A GIANT SQUID OF ANGER!!!! Oh, no. It broke. An open letter to disease. Dear disease, why do you
always put yourself at the center of human history? Most of you are just tiny, little single-celled
organisms, but you’re so self-important and self-involved that you’re always interfering
with us. Admittedly, sometimes you work for the good guys, but usually you don’t. It
seems like even though you’re constantly interfering with human history, you don’t
even care about it. I just hate when people, and also microbes,
are super self-involved. Like, don’t tell me you gotta take a day off to go to your
mom’s birthday party, Stan. That’s not imagining me complexly. I’ve got needs over
here. Best wishes, John Green. So continued defeat and the death of his troops
eventually convinced Napoleon to give up his dreams of an American empire and cut his losses.
He recalled his surviving troops, of the 40,000 who left, only 8,000 made it back. And then,
he sold Thomas Jefferson Louisiana. And that is how former slaves in Haiti gave America
all of this. On January 1, 1804, Dessalines who had defeated
the French, declared the island of Saint-Domingue independent and re-named it Haiti, which is
what the island had been called by the native inhabitants before the arrival of Columbus.
The Haitian Declaration of Independence was a rejection of France and, to a certain degree
of European racism and colonialism. It also affirmed, to quote from the book Slave
Revolution in the Caribbean, “a broad definition of the new country as a refuge for enslaved
peoples of all kinds.” So, why is this little island so important that we would devote an
entire episode to it? First, Haiti was the second free and independent nation state in
the Americas. It also had one of the most successful slave revolts ever. Haiti became
the first modern nation to be governed by people of African descent, and they also foiled
Napoleon’s attempts to build a big new world empire Of course, Haiti’s history since its revolution
has been marred by tragedy, a legacy of the loss of life that accompanied the revolution.
I mean, 150,000 people died in 1802 and 1803 alone. But the Haitian revolutions matter.
They matter because the Haitians, more than any other people in the age of revolutions,
stood up for the idea that none should be slaves, that the people who most need the
protection of a government should be afforded that protection. Haiti stood up for the weak
when the rest of the world failed to. The next time you read about Haiti’s
poverty, remember that. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. Our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is ably interned by Meredith Danko.
And our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Oh, right, I write it with my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer. Actually, he does most of the work, who are we kidding. Last week’s phrase of the week was “fancy
footwear.” If you want to guess this week’s phrase of the week or suggest future ones,
you can do so in comments, where you can also ask questions that will be answered by our
team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and as we
say in my home town, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

100 thoughts on “Haitian Revolutions: Crash Course World History #30

  • I dont support the Haitian massacre of 1804 against whites on the island, i don't support murder at all.

    But all i'm saying is, if you hate the Haitians because of that…you better not be supportive of the Americans gaining their independence at the cost of British, Native-American, and black lives.

    It was obvious why the Haitians didn't trust white people after going through so much hell. It's sad that things had to go that way but thats just the way they went. I think about 3000-5000 died, but keep in mind, there were never that many whites on the island to begin with in comparison to the color population.

  • As far as I’m concern this vid should have a billion views and taught in every high school in the world……yes I’m a little bias ……lol

  • I’m force to watch this sh,it cause of a worksheet someone leak the answers so the future generation doesn’t have to suffer doing this

  • thank you, my siblings and i are homeschooling. this episode as reinforced the teachings that my mom always taught us as students and as Haitians.

  • You forgot to mention the reparations france demanded from Haiti for the loss of revenue through slavery, which took Haitians 127years to pay. You also forgot to mention that there was a trade blockade that prevebted Haiti from trading with othet nations plus the real deeper meaning is Haiti wasn't allowed to thrive because white supremacists could let Haiti be an example of success to africans and ADOS In the americas

  • Remember people, everything wrong with Haiti was caused solely by other nations and other people. Haitians have never done anything wrong themselves and ever since the beginning the world has been against Haiti.

  • I love how u say Toussain Louverture he's the haitian Napoleon and that's pretty ironic, because he gonna die like Napoleon

  • Lmao 9:15 he looks for the chair, sees it isn't there, and acts as if he only notices its absence when he tries to sit on it. (Obviously I know it's scripted.) You are many things, Stan, but you are not an actor.

  • Just remember there would not be any African slaves except for the complicity of African tribal chiefs that raided each other tribes and sold their captives into slavery.

  • 8:50 never take away a countries guns. this goes for america, too. people try to take our self defense away. they must be ready for a revolt

  • This is really biased. Haiti is a racial state and after the revolution haiti committed huge massacres of people solely based on the color of their skin. They killed white people indiscriminately and in the process destroyed their economy.

  • An open letter to Crash Course

    I know you will probably never read this but you now brought a 22 year old uwi student (University of the West Indies) to tears

    Best wishes from the fans

  • 6:36 "Note that the only people in this picture are angels and white folks."

    Care to explain the black lady at the bottom right then?

  • History will remember France… not for their historical significance but for their overpriced food items and their hate for Canada

  • The French did terrible things. But the 1804 Haitian Genocide was terrible too. Guess it wasn't worth mentioning though

  • Set down it's was black Americans who got this history out not this!¡??? Shut your mouth 🇺🇸😊

  • "Haitians were slaves who fight for freedom" > "neoliberalism constantly oppresses Haitians, to this day" = indoctrination > education

  • Haitians are the only blacks enslave who had the balls about the weight of a skyscraper to rebel

    Better to die a man on your feet than live as a slave on your knees

  • It's almost like Haiti paid America back with that Louisiana purchase if you think about it. America's revolution to some degree inspired the French Revolution which set the way for the Haitian revolution isn't that kinda cool?

  • I'm a first-time grad student TA helping a professor redesign her history course and writing all the section lesson plans, and I just made a note to show this in class at the end of the section about the Haitian Revolutions. Thanks, John, for the wonderful and insightful video!

  • I give you a thumbs ups!!! 👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👐🏾 for acutely portraying the Haitian 🇭🇹 revolution!!! Thank you 😊

  • 2:16
    Look to the left, that black lady is dabbing on the haters…
    I'm sorry, this is actually a pretty serious event. But I couldn't…

  • This is why Haiti is being black balled. Europeans are not allowing Haiti to have access to certain resources. Also, Dominicans are being used as a tool to keep Haiti from making progress.

  • The reason why 300+ k of them died during the earthquake. Poverty via bitter Europeans/crooks

  • THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION IS SO IGNORED IN THE GREATER CONVERSATION OF HISTORY PERIOD. NO OTHER SLAVE REVOLT ON EARTH WAS MORE SUCCESSFUL BEFORE OR AFTER. ITS THE STUFF OF LEGEND AND YET SOMEHOW I NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT IN ANY HIGH SCHOOL NOR COLLEGE COURSE; THEIR SHOULD BE LITERALLY DOZENS OF HOLLYWOOD FILMS AND DEEP STUDY DOCUMENTARIES CELEBRATING THE MANY ASPECTS OF WHO WHAT AND WHY THIS THING WAS SO MONUMENTAL YET SADLY THERES NOT MUCH Thank you for focusing on this important piece of history involving a people and culture who should be celebrated way more then they get the credit for.

  • I am a New Orleans tour guide and have been telling my version of this story for twenty years. "I know what you're thinking,'…this is a recipe for permanent social stability.'" I almost snarfed my beer!!!! Good job sir!

  • It seems disingenuous not to mention the brutality of the revolt and how the revolution ate its own children on Haiti. You've portrayed the aftermath of the revolt as a series of unmitigated successes on behalf of L'Ouverture, when in reality it was an absolute clusterfuck of internecine violence and ethnic cleansing.

  • Am a Bahamian, with Haitian descent.. Haitians get such a bad name.. in the Bahamas, for one to be connected or relative to Haitian it's considered a bad or degrading thing.. I have been saying for awhile..
    That Haitians should be honored, especially by people who were once enslaved.
    Great piece.. this is the most bipartisan show I have seen.. great job on the Haitian revolution.. I wish u spoke more on the stolen gold, the embargo that was placed on Haitian and the money Haiti had to pay out to gain their independence. And possible uranium in the mountains. I heard lol

  • You forgot this: "demanded that the newly formed country pay the French government and French slaveholders the modern equivalent of US$21 billion for the "theft" of the slaves" and this: "This independence debt was financed by French banks and the American Citibank, and finally paid off in 1947"

  • Haiti is poor today, because they revolted from France. France didn't want to pay reparations for what they did to the slave decendants. This ensured other Western European nations NOT to want to help them develop their economy.

  • you kinda missed the part where the trading nations (Western) embargoed Haiti until they agreed to pay reparations to France for the loss of the colony. Driving them into poverty that still exists!

  • For anyone interested – the Revolutions podcast has awesome 30-episode series on the Haitian revolution. Absolutely recommend it if you want to learn more.

  • Haiti is example for kids who has terrible, abusive family and being bullied or attacking other people for its opportunity reason. Which is why I respected the Haitians, even the DR (Dominican republic) I wish both of these countries made there decisions and become comrades

  • Should be called the Haitian genocide! Yeah see if you're white they're real quick to point the finger but this right here should give you an idea of how blacks Act.

  • The race card isn't working with people in America anymore we are seeing through that vs and we're not going to allow a bunch of illegal immigrants racist blacks abortionist atheist or Communists take over our country! Apparently the white people were not on their guard and we're not ready they should have been more careful.

  • Isn't it interesting how you had Rich free black people but yet if you ask a black person they'll tell you how badly they were treated what a joke this was no Revolution it was an absolute genocide of white people!

  • Why isn't this interesting how that in their society the black women actually owned their Plantation there were rich black people they served in the militia be served in the police but yet to hear black people tell the Story they were all abused what a bunch of s***.

  • The crash course ignres (on purpose or not) the massacre Desalines ordered in 1805 when almost all white people (including women and children) were killed as a significant number of mullatos and even black people considered being sympathetic to the whites. This made the country far less governable as destroyed the huge majority clerks; the huge majority of the black people did not know reading and writing…

  • I feel so weird when he says "white people and people of colour". Seriously, what's wrong with the word "black"? I would even say it's less offensive than this weird counterpart

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