the half a million slaves of African descent inhabiting the French
colony of Saint Dominque rose in revolt, inspired in part by the
revolution which had begun in France two years earlier. Led by
the former slave Toussaint l'Ouverture, the revolution was a bloody
affair but it succeeded in abolishing slavery throughout the island,
and in fending off both French and British attempts to reconquer the
colony over the next decadeIm. L'Ouverture was captured by the French
and imprisoned in France in 1803, but his associate Jean-Jacques
Dessalines, likewise a former slave, once again expelled French forces
and presided over the declaration of the independence of the Republic
of Haiti on January 1, 1804. Haiti was the second European colony in
the western hemisphere to declare its independence (after the United
States), and the first republic in which African slaves broke their
chains and instituted their own government.
The Haitian Declaration of Independence, 1804
The Commander in Chief to the People of Haiti
is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our
land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those
ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of
liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of
national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country
of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the
inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating
torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.
Independence or death... let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion.
my countrymen, on this solemn day I have brought together those
courageous soldiers who, as liberty lay dying, spilled their blood to
save it; these generals who have guided your efforts against tyranny
have not yet done enough for your happiness; the French name still
haunts our land.
revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our
laws, our habits, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the
French. Indeed! There are still French in our island, and you believe
yourself free and independent of that Republic which, it is true, has
fought all the nations, but which has never defeated those who wanted
to be free.
Victims of our [own] credulity and indulgence for 14 years; defeated
not by French armies, but by the pathetic eloquence of their agents'
proclamations; when will we tire of breathing the air that they
breathe? What do we have in common with this nation of executioners?
The difference between its cruelty and our patient moderation, its
color and ours the great seas that separate us, our avenging climate,
all tell us plainly that they are not our brothers, that they never
will be, and that if they find refuge among us, they will plot again to
trouble and divide us.
citizens, men, women, girls, and children, let your gaze extend on all
parts of this island: look there for your spouses, your husbands, your
brothers, your sisters. Indeed! Look there for your children, your
suckling infants, what have they become?... I shudder to say it ... the
prey of these vultures.
of these dear victims, your alarmed gaze will see only their assassins,
these tigers still dripping with their blood, whose terrible presence
indicts your lack of feeling and your guilty slowness in avenging them.
What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits? Remember that
you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers,
after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without
having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours.
you, precious men, intrepid generals, who, without concern for your own
pain, have revived liberty by shedding all your blood, know that you
have done nothing if you do not give the nations a terrible, but just
example of the vengeance that must be wrought by a people proud to have
recovered its liberty and jealous to maintain it let us frighten all
those who would dare try to take it from us again; let us begin with
the French. Let them tremble when they approach our coast, if not from
the memory of those cruelties they perpetrated here, then from the
terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born
French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty.
have dared to be free, let us be thus by ourselves and for ourselves.
Let us imitate the grown child: his own weight breaks the boundary that
has become an obstacle to him. What people fought for us? What people
wanted to gather the fruits of our labor? And what dishonorable
absurdity to conquer in order to be enslaved. Enslaved?... Let us leave
this description for the French; they have conquered but are no longer
us walk down another path; let us imitate those people who, extending
their concern into the future, and dreading to leave an example of
cowardice for posterity, preferred to be exterminated rather than lose
their place as one of the world's free peoples.
us ensure, however, that a missionary spirit does not destroy our work;
let us allow our neighbors to breathe in peace; may they live quietly
under the laws that they have made for themselves, and let us not, as
revolutionary firebrands, declare ourselves the lawgivers of the
Caribbean, nor let our glory consist in troubling the peace of the
neighboring islands. Unlike that which we inhabit, theirs has not been
drenched in the innocent blood of its inhabitants; they have no
vengeance to claim from the authority that protects them.
Fortunate to have never known the ideals that have destroyed us, they can only have good wishes for our prosperity.
Peace to our neighbors; but let this be our cry: "Anathama to the French name! Eternal hatred of France!"
of Haiti! My happy fate was to be one day the sentinel who would watch
over the idol to which you sacrifice; I have watched, sometimes
fighting alone, and if I have been so fortunate as to return to your
hands the sacred trust you confided to me, know that it is now your
task to preserve it. In fighting for your liberty, I was working for my
own happiness. Before consolidating it with laws that will guarantee
your free individuality, your leaders, who I have assembled here, and
I, owe you the final proof of our devotion.
and you, leaders, collected here close to me for the good of our land,
the day has come, the day which must make our glory, our independence,
there could exist among us a lukewarm heart, let him distance himself
and tremble to take the oath which must unite us. Let us vow to
ourselves, to posterity, to the entire universe, to forever renounce
France, and to die rather than live under its domination; to fight
until our last breath for the independence of our country.
you, a people so long without good fortune, witness to the oath we
take, remember that I counted on your constancy and courage when I
threw myself into the career of liberty to fight the despotism and
tyranny you had struggled against for 14 years. Remember that I
sacrificed everything to rally to your defense; family, children,
fortune, and now I am rich only with your liberty; my name has become a
horror to all those who want slavery. Despots and tyrants curse the day
that I was born. If ever you refused or grumbled while receiving those
laws that the spirit guarding your fate dictates to me for your own
good, you would deserve the fate of an ungrateful people. But I reject
that awful idea; you will sustain the liberty that you cherish and
support the leader who commands you. Therefore vow before me to live
free and independent, and to prefer death to anything that will try to
place you back in chains. Swear, finally, to pursue forever the
traitors and enemies of your independence.
Done at the headquarters of Gonaives, the first day of January 1804, the first year of independence.
The Deed of independence
January 1st 1804, the general in chief of the native army, accompanied
by the generals of the army, assembled in order to take measures that
will insure the good of the country;
having told the assembled generals his true intentions, to assure
forever a stable government for the natives of Haiti, the object of his
greatest concern, which he has accomplished in a speech which declares
to foreign powers the decision to make the country independent, and to
enjoy a liberty consecrated by the blood of the people of this island;
and after having gathered their responses has asked that each of the
assembled generals take a vow to forever renounce France, to die rather
than live under its domination, and to fight for independence until
their last breath.
generals, deeply moved by these sacred principles, after voting their
unanimous attachment to the declared project of independence, have all
sworn to posterity, to the universe, to forever renounce France, and to
die rather than to live under its domination.
Translated from the original document by Laurent Dubois and John Garrigus. Source: https://today.duke.edu/showcase/haitideclaration/declarationstext.html