Legal History Workshop: Malick Ghachem
This paper takes on the question of how best to understand the relationship between the Haitian Revolution and the North Atlantic revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that both preceded and followed it. Since at least the time of the Seven Years War (1754-1763), if not earlier, the term “revolution” was associated with the ideal of liberation from slavery. Yet until very recently, Haiti has had a relatively difficult time assuming its proper place in the comparative canon of revolutions. A vast gap separated the metaphorical antislavery of classical republican thought from the actual overthrow of plantation slavery, which helps to explain why the American Revolution was never able to serve as a script for the Haitian Revolution. And while Haiti’s emancipation was closely connected to the French Revolution, the transformation of Saint-Domingue in the 1790s drew upon colonial legal and ideological resources that predated the outbreak of revolution in France. In the 1804 Haitian Declaration of Independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines famously equated liberation from slavery with total rupture with France, a conflation that permitted the first of these imperatives to be obscured in the name of securing the other. But Haiti’s revolutionary message was immediately outlawed by a hostile world that continued to tolerate the gap between metaphorical and plantation slavery. It was left to the second American Revolution – Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation – to close this gap, in what amounted effectively to a fusion of the (first) American and Haitian revolutionary scripts.