How the French lost their Caribbean empire & the South inherited part of it
As noted in an earlier article on SNN, no image frightened Southerners more in the Antebellum age than did that of the Haitian Revolution. What initially started as an outgrowth of the revolutionary ideology of the French Revolution combined with the demographic and social circumstances in the fabulously wealthy and productive French colony of Saint Domingue and resulted in White genocide and the utter collapse of the economy and indeed civilisation itself. Not only did this revolution inspire fear in plantation societies everywhere, it also had an enormous impact on geo-political developments and proved especially important in the expansion of Southern culture.
As Philip Bougher writes on page 226 of his essay ‘The French and the Dutch Caribbean, 1600-1800′ which is included in The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its People (edited by Stephan Palmié and Francisco Scarano), ‘By 1791, Saint-Dominque’s European population had grown to almost 31,000, but slaves numbered 480,000 and free blacks and people of color numbered more than 27,000, an unusually high number in a slave society.’ He goes on to note on page 229 that many of the free people of colour ‘owned slaves and imitated European racial attitudes.’ The 58,000 free people of Saint Dominque then were almost evenly divided between Whites and free people of colour. Dr Dale Tomich of Binghampton University writes in his essay ‘From Abolition to Emancipation’ (also included in Palmié and Scarano’s book):
What began in 1791 as a conflict between white and free colored elites over citizenship and the colony’s status in the new French republic was transformed into a revolutionary struggle against colonialism and slavery by mass slave resistance. After a long and complex struggle, the successful revolution in Saint-Domingue and the creation of the independent republic of Haiti in 1804 overthrew slavery in Europe’s most prosperous colony and marked a turning point for the politics of slavery and anti-slavery.
Tomich then goes on to summarise the far-reaching consequences of the destruction of Saint Domingue, including the elimination of the French as a major colonial power in the Caribbean and the rise of the United States as an Atlantic power. Of major importance to Southerners was the westward expansion of the South into the fertile Lower Mississippi Valley. This resulted in a plantation culture stretching from the Lowcountry of South Carolina to what is today the Louisiana-Texas border. The existing Spanish and French planters and settlers in this northern region of the Golden Circle were easily absorbed into the growing Southern plantation culture. Tomich writes:
[T]he Haitian Revolution destroyed the balance of power between empires and eroded the rationale for mercantilism in the Western Hemisphere. It resulted in the dramatic withdrawal of the world’s largest sugar producer from the world market and removed Britain’s chief rival for domination of the Atlantic. Defeat in Haiti crippled France’s colonial system and ended its imperial ambitions in the Americas. After losing Haiti, Napoleon sold Louisiana – including the rich, slave-based cotton and sugar frontier of the Lower Mississippi Valley – to the United States. The combined effects of the Haitian Revolution and Britian’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars led to [the] destruction of the French navy and merchant marine and decline of the French port cities and left the United States as Britain’s only potential challenger in the Atlantic.