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French and Haitian Revolution Comparisons

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Throughout history, there have been dozens of times when people were extremely upset with the government that was ruling over them. However, these angry citizens only revolt a fraction of the time, due to fear of the government. Two examples of when people stood up for their rights and revolted are the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution. These revolts are loosely connected, as many say that the Haitian Revolution was inspired by the French Revolution. The French Revolution started in 1789 and continued all the way until 1814. The people in France had discontent with the classes, as 98% of the French population was living in serious poverty. The French people revolted, and after two years, they finally got rid of the monarchy that they hated. However, after a while, Napoleon took power of France and started a war with almost all of Europe. France lost the Napoleonic Wars, and was forced to return to a monarchy. By the time the war was over, France had also lost one of their best colonies, Haiti. During the French Revolution, the slaves in Haiti were upset with how little freedom they had. A majority of slaves revolted in 1791 against French rule.

After twelve and a half years of fighting, Haiti got its independence on New Year’s Day of 1804. Many have speculated that Haiti would still be a part of France if it was not for the French Revolution. The Haitian Revolution was inspired by the French Revolution because Haiti saw the French Revolution as a perfect time to revolt, the slaves in Haiti felt as if they had the right to be free after reading the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, and decided to revolt after reading some of John Locke’s Enlightenment ideas. One of the reasons Haiti revolted during the French Revolution is because France was already focused on the French Revolution, so they couldn’t pay that much attention to Haiti(“Haiti). Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, had the idea of revolting for quite a while. However, he couldn’t do anything with that idea because the French military was way too strong, and he knew that. However, once the French Revolution started, he knew he would have his opportunity (Popkin). “The French could not devote too much attention to the colony as they were experiencing conflicts in Europe.” (“Haiti”).

Due to all of the turmoil in Europe, France was only able to send a very limited number of soldiers to Europe. Out of the 43,000 soldiers that Napoleon was able to send to Haiti, twenty thousand died because of Yellow Fever (Peterson). “Therefore, Haiti was able to successfully revolt due to the lack of attention granted by France.”(“Haiti”). If there was not a world war going on in Europe, it is highly unlikely that Haiti would be a free country today. Haiti had chosen a perfect time to start this uprising, and had it not been for the French Revolution, L’Ouverture would have had loads of trouble to try and even start the Haitian Revolution, much less finish it. Many slaves in Haiti felt like it was their right to be free, after The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (“The Declaration of the Rights…”). On August 26th 1789, the French Revolutionaries passed The Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document stating that all men were created, and remain equal(Kreis). When the educated slaves in Haiti had read The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, there was finallyhope that they would be free.

“News of the Declaration of Rights of Man brought new hopes to the black masses. Meanwhile, plantation owners and the French government continued to exploit the slaves for profit” (“Overview Essay: Haitian Revolution”). When time went by, and they were still working without pay, the slaves were getting extremely frustrated. Even thought that the document was made in France, the concepts were meant to be held all around the world (Kreis). After the educated Haitian Slaves read this document, they felt outraged that they were still slaves. “According to Revolutionary French legislation, slaves should have been free. Nevertheless, fear and profit momentarily bound them to a lucrative business. Revolution was the only alternative.”(Bromely). After they were not freed even though the document clearly said all men are born free, the slaves saw rebellion as the only way they were going to truly get their freedom. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen made slaves really hungry for freedom, which is one of the reasons that they ended up starting the slave revolt. (“The Declaration of the Rights…”).

Finally, Haiti got quite a bit of their motivation and reason for revolt from some of the Eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers. These philosophers played a very big role in the development of many revolutions across the globe, including Haiti’s. “Throughout history, revolutions have started because of new ideas that change thinking and disrupt the status quo. The Haitian Revolution of 1789-1804 is no exception.”(Nicholson). The main philosopher that the Haitians took their ideas from is John Locke. Some of Locke’s ideas were previously unheard of, and started quite a debate when he published his books. These ideas gave people a new view on the way that things were seen all across the world, and gave people ideas they would have never had before. (“The Enlightenment”) “A government, he said, has an obligation to the people it governs. If a government fails its obligations or violates people’s natural rights, the people have a right to overthrow that government. This right to revolution would echo across Europe and around the world for centuries that followed.” (Ellis and Esler 447).

Locke said in his book, Two Treatises of Government, that the people being ruled by a government had the right to revolt if the government was not protecting their right to life, liberty or property. Since slaves obviously did not have those rights, the Haitian slaves thought that it was time to overthrow the French rule. Those very ideas that John Locke published 150 years earlier gave Haiti all the reason they might have ever needed to start a revolution against France, and they did just that. In conclusion, the inspiration for the Haitian Revolution can all be found within the French Revolution as well as some of the Enlightenment ideas.

Once the slaves read the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, they knew that they were legally free in France, but still didn’t receive that freedom because they were making landowners an extremely large profit. There was no better time to revolt against the French then a time where the French had to send 95% of their troops in Europe, so Haiti could easily fight whatever was left. Finally, the slaves that could read had seen John Locke’s ideas, and knew that it was time for Haiti to get French rule out of Haiti. Almost all of the inspiration Haiti needed to start this huge revolt can be found in the French Revolution, and if the French Revolution never happened, then it is very possible that Haiti is still under French possession.

Works Cited

Bromely, Jason. “Resistance and the Haitian Revolution” [“Resistance and the Haitian Revolution”]. Scholar Miami. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2013. <http://scholar.library.miami.edu/slaves/san_domingo_revolution/individual_essay/jason.html>. “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and its Impact

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