History: Gordon Brown, TOUSSAINT'S CLAUSE

Gordon S. Brown, Toussaint's Clause; The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution (University Press of Mississippi, 2005, pp.321) has a misleading title.  It suggests a monograph on the little-known leader of one of the most miserable countries in the world.  In fact, Toussaint's Clause is discussed only briefly (p-138).  It refers to the US decision to reopen trade with Santo Domingo despite the embargo against France.  The reference to the (American) Founding Fathers in the subtitle gives a hint to the scope of the book,  which is a broad survey of relations between the young United States, revolutionary France, Britain, and a then prosperous island known as "the pearl of the Antilles.".  This small country was the stage on which the complex relations among the US, France, Britain and Spain played themselves out. The population of the island was divided into prosperous French sugar planters, petits blancs, mulattoes (some prosperous) and slaves. This class division was at the basis of the struggle among various black leaders, so that it is hard to say who was the liberator of Haiti. Toussaint freed the slaves and ruled the whole island of Hispaniola, but he did not proclaim independence. Nevertheless, Napoleon wished to assert French authority on the island and sent General Charles Leclerc to take it over. Toussaint was imprisoned in France, where he died. The French were forced to withdraw from the island, and a struggle for power began. Jean-Jacqyes Dessalines and Henri Christophe seized power and proclaimed the independence of the island in 1804. Dessalines named himself Emperor Jacques I, but he was assassinated.  Christophe took over but committed suicide. The mulatto Pétion established a separate state in the south. but the country was reunited by Jean Pierre Boyer.  Thus began the slide from a once prosperous island to the hell-hole which is Haiti today. Many French planters fled to the South of the US. where the slave revolt in the island had aroused great unease.

Gordon has written an important book, well written and documented.   One wonders how and whn he became interested in Haiti, since his foreign service career was spent mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. He was political adviser to General Norman Schwarzkopf in the  first Gulf War, which he has discussed in his book Coalition, Coercion and Compromise.  He has also written a book on The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily. I hope I can get around to reading it.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005