Interviewee: Marlene Daut, Associate Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute, Professor of African American and African Studies and American Studies at UVA
Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla
Interview date: 2019-05-11
Interview Summary: Daut discusses Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Haiti, the meaning of the Haitian revolution, and the legacies of independence. The interview also addresses the revolutionary potential of Haiti’s history as the first and only successful anti-racist and anti-colonial revolution.
Keywords: Haiti, Toussaint, Constitution, Declaration, Revolution
Transcription: Maggie Pollard
James Perla: I actually am going to start.
Deborah McDowell: Okay. All right. Okay.
James Perla: Yeah, thank you so much for being willing to speak with us today on this lovely May afternoon. The segues are infinitely entertaining.
Deborah McDowell: I’m just a gigglebox.
JP: Yeah, that’s all right. So, just to start and another way to preface this is that some of the questions we’ll ask will be quite general because, you know, the listening audience is intended [00:30] for the general public. So, you know, the questions themselves might seem a little basic but I think we’re hoping that you might help us sort of help to frame and get context for the episode.
DMcD: Yeah, we will even ask you questions, and it will sometimes appear you don’t know the answer to that but it’s in the end, you know, that we don’t know the answer. Why would you be asking something so simple? But it is in the interest of keeping a general audience informed.
Haiti and Thomas Jefferson
James Perla: Yeah, so maybe [1:00] just to start thinking about Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Haiti. What kind of words or ideas come to mind when you think about Jefferson and Haiti.
Marlene Daut: That’s interesting. I mean for me I would say more of ’embargo’ because of the trade embargo. Jefferson, also, as you know has some interesting writings and letters about Haiti to people like Aaron Burr. The famous, the infamous rather [1:30], “cannibals of the terrible republic” comment, which is always interesting though because it was 1799. So, what’s the terrible republic is always the question that I ask. Is the terrible republic France? Or is Jefferson already imagining that Haitian independence is inevitable and therefore sort of just kind of referring to Haiti already in a sense as independent? But as the century, as the 19th century progressed and Jefferson became older [02:00] his ideas about Haiti shifted rather dramatically. There was… there’s a letter he wrote to a man who had a colonization scheme named St. George Tucker and who was proposing that freed blacks from United States could be sent to Haiti and lots of people had sort of ideas like this but this is one of the earlier ones. And Jefferson has this very interesting phrase where he says, “If something is not done and soon done we will be the murderers of our children.” And it’s interesting [2:30] because if you read a lot of Jefferson letters, because there’s a way in which you can read that as very metaphorical like literally that the white men will be murdering their own children if a civil war were to happen or a revolution similar to what happened in Haiti were to occur but in his other… in many of his other letters, he talks about our children and conflict in general. So, he had this kind of very paternalistic way of speaking. That doesn’t mean we can’t read the metaphor and read all of the racial implications into it because I think we certainly can [3:00] but he literally knew and meant that a civil war in the United States would pit family members against one another. That it would… that the divisions were so strong that people would actually be in conflict with their own family and that’s very similar to what happened during the Haitian Revolution and to what was happening in the independent Haiti of his day where you had Haiti divided into two separate states and you had different family members living in different sides of the country who were against each other and the Sean lat [3:30] family is one of the famous Haitian families where they had one brother on one side and the other brother and possibly even additional siblings, you know, in [Henri] Christophe’s Kingdom and the others on the side on [Alexandre] Pétion’s republic. So, he very much knew that what was happening in the United States could actually divide the nation into separate states because they had seen that happen in Haiti, which at one point had three different nations on the island if you think about the eastern side.
Political Factionalism in the U.S. and Abroad
James Perla: So, [4:00] that letter happened following the Haitian revolution that he’s saying, “Okay. Well if this were to…” So, the sort of divisions that he’s referring to just to be a little more explicit here are kind of like based in slavery? Is that fair to say?
Marlene Daut: I think they were but I actually think they were more… they ran deeper even than the issue of slavery because if you think about the factionalism that was occurring in the United States at that time [4:30] because it’s easy to think I always say, you know, when students ask me this they think the political divisions that we have right now are really strong and they think that they’re extraordinary and I always say go to the early national United States. I mean people are literally having duels with one another over these kinds of divisions as we know, right? And so, the Jeffersonian faction had a lot of opposition and they especially had opposition in the north, of course, from the Federalists who were opposing just today as people opposed the policies of one side or the other, the Republicans, the [5:00] Democrats were opposing everything that he was doing which is why when the trade embargo expires, that trade is allowed to resume. He’s not going to win that battle and effectively loses it. And so, I would say that yes that the comment about, you know, being the murderers of our own children, of course, there’s the issue of slavery and that that is the reason for the Civil War that would later happen. But it in his earlier time far before that there were also these other kinds of [5:30] political divisions that really had to do with how is this nation going to be run and where’s the seat of power going to be? And again because there were examples in the rest of the world of this power struggle in France, which is bouncing back and forth between different kinds of governance especially I mean imagining, you know, Jefferson’s reaction, which would be an interesting thing to look for in his letters to Napoleon’s escape from the island of Elba, his return during the Hundred Days period I mean, they lived in a turbulent political world and literally anything was possible. If [6:00] Napoleon can escape from an island in the middle of the sea and come back, march into Paris for 100 days and start ruling again with virtually no opposition, they live in a world in which they know that basically that lots of things are possible in a way actually that I think our imaginations today are a little bit more circumscribed like we don’t imagine that anything like that would ever happen. They didn’t have to imagine it because it was happening.
The Cannibals of a Terrible Republic
James Perla: In Haiti, I mean that was sort of… we had a wonderful conversation with [6:30] Robert [Fatton] quite some time ago, and we’re just starting this project when… the sort of refrain of that conversation was that Haiti was at once unimaginable but also so imaginable that what, you know, what are the possibilities of them imagining these radical revolutions? You reference the letter about the Haitians being described as cannibals of a terrible republic. I wonder [7:00] just if you might give a little context on that what, you know, what’s that referring to? It was to Aaron Burr preceding the Haitian Revolution.
Marlene Daut: Well, during it.
James Perla: Right, yeah, yeah. So, if you could maybe just expand on that.
Marlene Daut: I mean so 1799 was actually an interesting moment in the history of the Haitian Revolution because Toussaint L’Ouverture had ascended to a general, a French general. He became the second black man after actually Alexandre Dumas’ father to attain the rank of general in France [7:30] so he actually then is going to be a general under Napoleon when Napoleon assumes power and I think that’s really important because Toussaint L’Ouverture is then a French general and again, so Thomas Jefferson’s comments to Aaron Burr about a cannibals of the terrible republic refer to the fact that in France, it is possible to have black French generals fighting and [8:00], you know, getting rid of the British and making a treaty with Spain that causes actually in 1795 the Spanish side of the island to be seated to France and that black people are the architects of some of these treaties and this is ultimately what Napoleon fears and so it makes sense that Jefferson also would and should fear it because, you know, if this can happen in Saint-Domingue why could it not happen in the United States? [8:30] Why could it not happen in Jamaica? Why could it not happen? Why could there not be black republics scattered all throughout the Caribbean that then could actually kind of combine together and be a force? And because the other thing I think that’s interesting about 1799 is… and I always say this to students as well, we tend to think of the United States as a superpower because of its position today, but in 1799, it certainly was not and is very self conscious about its identity [9:00] and whether or not, you know, Frank Jefferson was often charged with being Francophilic, and that was a problem in the early national United States because the French Revolution was enormously unpopular in certain sectors of the population. Its certainly the Robespierre’s to the Jacobins were written about very negatively in many early national newspapers. And the reason for that is, I mean, it’s one thing to say the people want to be rid of their king which I think a lot of people in the United States, [9:30] for example, John Adams in his, you know, statements about kingly power, etc., the defense of the Constitution of the United States, but it was another thing to say that people should kill their king. That was a different… and that was actually a bridge too far in Haiti also, as you might imagine. So, one of the reasons I always say that King Henri Christophe was no Jacobin I mean obviously not because he’s a king as well, but he… they would ride against the Robespierre’s, the Jacobins and I think it was [10:00] precisely that idea because once you say that people can kill their leader, well then again anything is possible. Once you say that the people have that right if they are angry to actually get rid of their own leader. So, the cannibals of the terrible republic is also about, I think, the sort of fear of the French Revolution to a certain extent and the idea that it had been transferred over into Haiti because that was a very common understanding of French Saint-Domingue at that time was that the cause of that [10:30] conflict was actually the French Revolution.
James Perla: As if like white people are the only people capable of doing a revolutionary act. Yeah, that’s really helpful. But just really quick, Christophe? Who is that? Just for our listeners might not know that.
The Leclair Expedition as an Engine for Empire
Marlene Daut: So, Henri Christophe was a… also would become a general and he was really key to when [11:00] Toussaint L’Ouverture sees the Leclair Expedition which Napoleon had sent to reinstate slavery not just in Saint-Domingue, but in all of the French overseas empire, Toussaint you know, sort of sees their ships on the horizon and is kind of trying to decide like what they’re doing there and once he sees the number of the ships, he very much understands that this is not a negotiation that is preparing to happen. That this is a war. And he tells Henri Christophe [11:30] to go and burn down the city of Kap Ayisyen (Haitian Creole, Cap-Haïtien; English Cape-Haiti) and what you have to know about that is that remember this is a tactic that Napoleon himself… that this is going to be his downfall in in Saint-Domingue. But also when he goes into Russia, this is how the Russians during the Napoleonic Wars will thwart him is by burning everything. So, when when Christophe burns down Kap Ayisyen for the second time. That was the second time the city had been burned down. That means there’s no stores. That [12:00] means food. That means water supply. So, they end up having to stay out at bay for a while. Of course, they do end up coming in and and for a time Christophe along with the other French generals including Toussaint L’Ouverture will defect they will sort of surrender and capitulate but I think that once it was very clear Toussaint L’Ouverture had been kidnapped and sent to France and they didn’t really even know what was going to happen. Was he going to go on trial? Both Dessalines and Christophe decided to [12:30] kind of go against the French and to rally the troops literally and to fight. So, Christophe is there at the first proclamation of independence in Haiti, which is actually November 29th, 1803 and then they revise it to a longer version on January 1st, 1804 and he’s a signatory on all of that. After Dessalines is assassinated in October of 1806, Christophe is actually elected provisory president of Haiti and a [13:00] new constitution is issued. The Constitution is done in the name of the people of Haiti and that was very different from the first Constitution, which was the emperor’s Constitution and gave all of this power to the emperor. Well Christophe did not like how the power was sort of being diffused, so he fled back to the north of Haiti to Kap Ayisyen and established his own republic initially in February of 1807, issued a new constitution for that side of Haiti, [13:30]and then in March of 1811 declares himself king and has a kingdom from 1811 until 1820 when he committed suicide in October of 1820 as a result of a stroke he’d suffered in August of that year. But also he was… people were defecting and people were leaving the government and he very much saw that a civil war was preparing within his ranks. Not just with the other side of the island.
Deborah McDowell: So, that’s the topic of [14:00] your wildly popular essay, the Wakanda… Maybe talk about that a little bit.
The Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere
Marlene Daut: So, I wrote an essay for The Conversation called “Inside the Kingdom of Hayti, ‘the Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere'” and it was really kind of tongue-in-cheek and just I was fascinated by how much people like to talk about Black Panther and Wakanda and this sort of fictional black [14:30] kingdom, and I thought, well, it’s so interesting because there was a an actual black kingdom in the 19th century and just the number of people who didn’t appear to know about it was… that was interesting to me as well because one of the things that Christophe does quite controversially is, I mean, they’re making money hand over fist and this is an opulent kingdom. They have palaces and they have a citadel and the question becomes, you know, well how did Christophe build these things? Where did the money come from for these things to be built? And in the state-run newspaper, they would [15:00] publish the trade statistics. And so I always say, you know, the idea that Haiti is isolated is… that depends on your perspective of what isolation means. Certainly, the Haitian government sought recognition from the United States, recognition of their independence that is, from Great Britain, from France, from Spain. They wanted it from the world powers, but the material effects of not having it were not what we might imagine. There were Danish ships coming in and out of port, Spanish ships, British, a ton of U.S. ships. [15:30] It was highly controversial. People would stand on the floor of Congress when James Monroe was president even and talk about well, “Isn’t that to recognize their independence if we trade with them?” And those debates had started as soon as independence happened. You can trace them… people would bring it up on the floor of Congress, and except for that period of embargo in which illegal trade did still occur, you know, the United States had just decided that they were certain essentially [16:00] okay with de facto recognition and I think that was probably something that Jefferson, you know, in his own era was a mark against his legacy because he had tried very hard to cut off trade with Haiti and he essentially failed at that.
James Perla: Yeah, the market wins.
Deborah McDowell: The market always wins.
Who is Jacques Dessalines?
James Perla: Unfortunately. So, why did Jefferson… a little bit of… Well, two, so two minor points before I forget the things about Dessalines [16:30] again, who is that? And what was his role maybe briefly? I know… And this sort of clarifying question there is if he was kind of the imperial impetus to revise? Was it his role in the initial independence that caused Haiti to revise the declaration to be more of the people? Or, but maybe just starting first with who Dessalines is.
Marlene Daut: Yeah. So, Dessalines was a former [17:00] enslaved man from Saint-Domingue who actually worked as an enslaved person on the very plantation where Toussaint L’Ouverture would become the overseer to Toussaint L’Ouverture would gain his freedom and pretty early on. I mean long before the revolution started on the Bréda plantation and Dessalines was an enslaved person there. So, it is the very sort of interesting kind of ties that many of the revolutionary leaders had to one another, and [17:30] he was reputed to have all of these whip marks on his back, which is one of the reasons that people said he was this actually this great soldier. So, it’s interesting because Toussaint L’Ouverture is seen as the negotiator, Dessalines is the great warrior and soldier, but Christophe is the legislator. So, the idea of who is the architect of that first proclamation, which is signed by only three men: Dessalines, another general named [Augustin] Clerveaux and Christophe and then how it ends up into the later version in [18:00] which Dessalines will be the figurehead, the one who says “indigenous army” as they called themselves, you know, “this is being done in your name.” There’s a lot of theories about how that came about some of them are that the secretaries: Boisrond-Tonnerre and Charlotte and others were intimately involved. But those people Boisrond-Tonnerre wasn’t around when when Christophe became king and yet you see so much of an extension of those policies that it is difficult to believe, in my opinion, that he didn’t have something to do with [18:30] the way that the state was constructed under Dessalines and the idea that Dessalines makes himself an emperor and that Christophe would later make himself a king and the idea that how will power be consolidated. And so, I think that the main the main struggle in Haiti, even though it’s been codified as a racial struggle is where will power lie? And that might seem to us today like well of course power should lie lay with the people but in the 19th century that was actually a [19:00] radical… radically different idea. I want to say it was a radical idea but actually it was just that it was a radical departure from anything the world had seen and so these were actual debates that people were having. And so, it looks autocratic and it looks despotic for someone to say I’m an emperor or a king but Napoleon makes himself an emperor and that’s accepted because an emperor is in an empire is a completely valid form of government in the 19th century in a way that I think is different from today [19:30] and it’s a president that strange and the idea of sharing power supposedly in theory or not. And so, Dessalines I think because he at least is codified as this soldier and this warrior, there’s the idea that he wasn’t a good leader though. That he wasn’t a good kind of state leader and that this is what allows the fractions and I mean the interesting thing is we don’t know really who killed Dessalines. I mean we know who was [20:00] there but who’s the architect of this assassination that becomes infamous and there’s all these paintings about it because they kept shooting and missing and so… there’s all these… and they shot the horse. You know, they were just terrible shots. It’s a very interesting story like it was like the man who couldn’t be killed and evidently. I mean the story has it that someone had to basically walk up and slit his throat.
Haiti's Role in the Louisiana Purchase
Deborah McDowell: James has me very disciplined because I’m normally [20:30] very audible in my reactions and James has me trained not to gasp and laugh. So, I’m very able to contain myself here, but shifting gears for just a minute. One of Jefferson’s most significant accomplishments, of course in his long and illustrious career is the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the U.S. What’s Haiti’s role here? What ways might Haiti’s [21:00] involvement in… cast the Louisiana Purchase in a different light?
Marlene Daut: I mean it is widely understood among historians today and by that I mean not even a controversial sort of conclusion that the Louisiana Purchase happens as a direct result of the revolution in Haiti and that without possessing Saint-Domingue, Napoleon knows that Louisiana, that territory, will be far too expensive for him to hold on to and that he doesn’t really need it in [21:30] the same way and he needs money to finance his many wars. I mean talk about… I mean, it’s interesting to me when people talk about, you know, sort of despotic Haitians leaders Napoleon going into Egypt and telling them he was like Muhammad and all these things, you know, and so, you know this this idea of being a megalomaniac well, there’s your example of like the quintessential megalomaniac. But yeah, that. the Haitian revolution could have this kind of ricocheting [22:00] effect that is longitudinal meaning, I mean, we feel it today. There’s an entire part of our country that wouldn’t be a part of our country. And then the other interesting thing is that Jefferson has to figure out in terms of what we were talking about before and divisions. That is, they have to figure out how to fold Louisiana back into the nation because even in the 1830s, historians have called it the Creole-American split because the Louisiana Territory had also been Spanish. So, you had Spanish speakers there, you had French speakers there and then you had [22:30] people trying to say you have these very debates that we have English-only like we need to be English speaking and you had a lot of French people even up through the 19th century and George Washington’s cables era where he still writing about how Louisianans are determined not only to hold onto French but to Creole and Creole culture really. And so, the idea that that the Haitian revolution also creates this problem for the United States in terms of a different kind of [23:00] division as Louisiana, especially once it became a state, became the only place where they had like basically Napoleonic codes as law and there are still remnants today of that. So, we continue to feel the effects of really the kind of global world that existed in the 19th century in some sense is far more global than our own because people were much less self-conscious about it. It was just understood that that was the way the world was and you can see in the attempt to consolidate Louisiana [23:30]. Racially, also, when Jefferson appoints Governor Claiborne and Governor Claiborne also makes explicit statements about oh, well, we don’t want what happened in Saint-Domingue to happen here. So, we need to be careful with the free people of color because the understanding was that the alienation of the free people of color in French Saint-Domingue led them to join ranks with the enslaved instead of to stay on the side of the right and of their property. And so, Louisiana having that similar tripartite society racially speaking with a lot of free people of color who own [24:00] plantations and slaves, Governor Claiborne explicitly says, “I remember what happened in Saint-Domingue like let’s make sure that that doesn’t happen here.” So.
The Aftermath of the Haitian Revolution
Deborah McDowell: I think you’re absolutely right. We are still feeling those effects. You know, I sometimes joke with my friend Thad [Thaddeus] Davis who’s from New Orleans, you know, well, that’s another part of the world. That’s its own country because in a sense that’s that’s how it feels even to a person who’s not a native, you know, [24:30] it’s palpable when you’re there. Maybe palpable is too strong, but you know, it’s not too strong. I think it is. So, let’s talk about Haitian independence and its significance. First, can you walk us briefly through a few key moments? Through this long long story, but maybe simply who was involved. You’ve alluded to some of it already, [25:00] and what happened specifically in 1804?
Marlene Daut: Yeah. So, the Haitian Revolution kind of formally begins in August of 1791 with a ceremony at Bois Caïman. This is the story that the enslaved get together in sort of a remote place in Haiti, in what will become Haiti, but sort of in the mountains and they decide to wage kind of large scale and rebellion and this causes… and a few plantations to be to be burned down, [25:30] and then this kind of has a ricocheting effect. There were also… there were… the idea that Haitian revolution was unthinkable is only sort of in a kind of exclamatory way like, “that’s unthinkable!” like because I don’t want that to happen. It’s not because no one ever thought that it was going to happen because you can very clearly see in the writings of the planters and the colonists and even the free people of color that they very much understand that something is underfoot [26:00] and that there’s always a seed of rebellion in the enslaved and that’s one of the reasons why slave punishments were so harsh in Saint-Domingue and that you had a high marron population already. And so, when the rebellion breaks out, it’s very easy to get those maroons who had sort of extracted themselves from the plantation economy and lived sort of a different life in the in marronage, in the mountains, for them to come together with the enslaved and eventually with the free people of color who are going [26:30] to try to appeal to the British, who are going to try to appeal to the Spanish and, you know, the British have slaves also the the Spanish have slaves also, so that made sense for some of the free people of color who were plantations owners, but then you also had the revolutionaries to contend with and Toussaint L’Ouverture himself was very adamant that he wasn’t going to construct any deal with England or Spain that didn’t keep slavery ended because the French state was forced to abolish slavery in 1794 [27:00] throughout all of its empire be as a result of the Haitian Revolution. But so when when that happens and Toussaint goes back to the side of the French he… they turn their attention to getting rid of the British who had come to see if they could maybe capture Saint-Domingue to the Spanish who were already there on the other side and so thought maybe that they could fold that part into their empire as well. And this continues throughout the 19th century. There are periods of realtive calm once Toussaint L’Ouverture kind of establishes control and actually invites [27:30] the planters back who had fled to places like Cuba and Jamaica and Louisiana and Philadelphia invites them to come back, creates labor policies. The formerly enslaved go back to work but are supposed to be compensated and have better hours and of course not be whipped and punished in this way, and Napoleon when he comes to power after overthrowing the directory, sees in L’Ouverture a rival, and he’s correct. That L’Ouverture is his rival and [28:00] sends the Leclair Expedition. They were known, the French soldiers, for their genocidal policies that really I mean, there’s a book by a man named Claude Ribbe called Le Crime de Napoléon, The Crime of Napoleon, in which he talks about Napoleon is the original creator of the gas chamber. They would put people… people of color on boats out at the bay and they would fill it with sulfur gas and then they had them in the hold and they would open it up and sink the bodies and they also did mass drownings that they got from [28:30] some of the French Revolutionary tactics actually during the terror and this is… there are visitors from the United States and merchants who happened to, because they thought things were calming down under Toussaint, go to do business in Saint-Domingue who write home to U.S. newspapers talking about how many dead bodies are floating in the bay around various… So they did this in Jérémie, then they would do it in another city, they would do it in Jacmel and one, it’s called the picture of San Domingo, [29:00] I believe talks about their eyes up turned to the sky towards the heavens and bloated faces. I mean, so they… the terror, Sarah Johnson’s book The Fear of French Negroes, you know, she means also the fear they felt as well. Not just the fear that people had of them. And so, I think all of that has to be understood as why would Dessalines then later also create this policy that has also been called genocidal, in which he said all the French colonists must leave or… [29:30] immediately on these ships, right then make then there’s you know sort of records of what were the last ships to go and some of the colonists stayed for whatever reason and he said they’ve got to be, you know, killed and part of the reason was that Toussaint, he had watched, as Toussaint L’Ouverture said, come back. We’ll create these policies. We’ll work together. You’ll have your plantations back. You’ll even have laborers on them. As long as you follow the policies in the rules. They already watched that then they watched [30:00] L’Ouverture be kidnapped, sent to France, and I always say one has to wonder even though we don’t have good records about this. What happened when the revolutionaries in Haiti found out that L’Ouverture died of starvation and pneumonia and a stroke in a cell in France. Of neglect. And there is a letter in the Gazette in I believe it’s dated November of 1805, but the letter is actually from September of 1804 and it’s about Madame [30:30] L’Ouverture, Toussaint L’Ouverture’s wife, and it appeared first in a British newspaper and then it appeared in a U.S. newspaper about how she was actually imprisoned as well and tortured and had no longer the use of one arm. And so, one has to wonder the the effect of this news for the revolutionaries. So, the Haitians don’t print it until later, but it’s in September of 1804. They have all the British newspapers. They have all the U.S. newspapers because they write letters in themselves and [31:00] they know that their stuff is being printed in those papers. And so, one really has to wonder if this is the news that you’re getting out of France, you know, I say, it’s not to justify Dessalines policy, it’s to understand it and, you know, why it happened the way that it did.
The Radical Haitian Declaration of Independence
James Perla: I don’t know if you have… Thinking about the, you know, independence itself and what was in the declaration [31:30] you alluded to it a little bit… a little while ago about the role of people and people being something that was a radical departure from how society had been organized historically up to this point. And so, I wonder if maybe you could speak briefly about citizen. It was interesting the conference or that conversation last week, I think Julia Gaffield mentioned that that’s the first word in the [32:00] declaration and so, you know, thinking about, obviously, with Jefferson, you know, declarations and sort of maybe reading those two together in terms of what work is the Haitian Declaration of Independence doing that’s actually maybe even a radical departure from Jefferson, you know, the Jeffersonian Declaration that we tend to celebrate so much.
Marlene Daut: I mean it’s doing a lot. So, I mean the huge difference that, you know, we talked about last week. Actually one of the huge differences is that they Haitian Declaration of Independence comes [32:30] after the conflict is over the U.S., what will be the U.S. Declaration of Independence comes… it precedes it begins the major conflict. I mean there’s already conflict but it starts the war. The Haitian Declaration of Independence is supposed to end the war, but the big question is about declarations in general and I teach an age of revolutions class and I always talk to my students about this is that when the U.S. declares itself independent, the reason there’s a war is because England [33:00] doesn’t agree because see your declaration has to have treaty where… you have to be you have to be treaty worthy to make a treaty with another world power because I can’t make a treaty for example with a world power I don’t have the… I don’t have the authority, right? And so, under what authority did the creators of the declaration, the signers of the Declaration of Independence say that they were under whose authority? Well, they didn’t have the authority to do that which is what causes the war. So, in the case of Haiti when we think about, well maybe why were there two separate documents? [33:30] And also what those documents do? It’s, well, do the people who are creating them have the authority? Do they have the support of the people in whose name the declaration is constructed? And then the big matter, which makes it very similar to the United States, is France going to accept this or will it cause a war, another war, right? And so, when Julia Gaffield has talked about this is that Dessalines doesn’t know, nobody knows when or how France will accept this news [34:00]. They live in constant fear, the Haitians, that a French battalion or battalions is going to come back. And in fact they do and they keep trying up through the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1814. They again send commissioners in 1816. There are still French writers in the 1820s and 1830s talking about when we get Saint-Domingue back, right? So, the idea that that just because you declare yourself independent means that the world has to agree with you is and, you know, in the United States, United States had to make subsequent treaties [34:30] after the end of the war. Jay’s Treaty, for example, in which they had… took the United States had to compensate England for the loss of ships, for the loss of money, for all kinds of things. And so, it isn’t that the case of Haiti is so exceptional in that regard. I think what is more exceptional is that it lasts so long, the uncertainty and the idea that Haitians are not treaty worthy, that they don’t have treaty worthiness. lasts for so long and that when you think about, you know, England tends to be [35:00] the sort of vision of what empire is in the 19th century, but one has to imagine how powerful France had to be even during the Napoleonic Wars for the United States, England and Spain, Germany, Denmark, all Haiti’s trading partners to so fear angering France that they refuse to recognize Haitian independence because they so fear it that I mean to me is… and even… and then then on the flip side of that is when [35:30] does that shift? So, France then makes a treaty with Haiti and they recognize Haitian Independence, but the U.S. doesn’t follow suit because when you look at the debates on the floor of Congress, it’s because what will that mean for slavery in the United States if we recognize that they can be treaty worthy and that we can recognize them as a legitimate government? So again, the market is king because the merchants can just do whatever they want. The press can do whatever they want. They say the Republic of Haiti all the time. They say the kingdom of Haiti, the Empire of Haiti when Haiti has another empire under [Faustin] Soulouque but [36:00] and so they’re sort of… there’s a free press there’s a free market to a certain extent but the government itself is and their letters back and forth to one another. It’s very clear that they understand there would be a difference semantically and perhaps materially at home to recognize Haitian independence.
The Question of Race
Deborah McDowell: And where was race in this?
Marlene Daut: Race is all over this. Race is all over this. It’s, you know, the Jefferson letters that we’ve been referencing, you know, [36:30] the cannibals of the terrible republic inflected with ideas about race. Then there is the idea of what would be done with free black people in the United States? Where can we send them? So, they’ll be a beyond the reach of mixture and so we won’t have a race war and so all of that. And then I just think that… I think that as much as it might be, you know, we’ve had a black president of the United State, so people think this is, you know, sort of a lot of progress and whatever but first [37:00] imagine how long it takes and then second the idea of the sort of opposition that Barack Obama got from people who just cannot imagine themselves being at the table having to negotiate with someone who looks like him, and I think that for people who study race that is obvious, but I think people who live their lives and try not to think about race have a hard time imagining it until it kind of happens to them comes to their table, right? That’s sort of like, “Oh, I’m fine with black people as long as you don’t try to marry my daughter or something like that,” [37:30] right? And I do think that yeah, like seeing a black man dressed up as a king not an African chief, you know, of some idea that they have of Africa, right? But as a king, as a powerful king, making treaties with them. And one of the things… one of the ways that that plays out is that Christophe will not allow ships to come into the port when they send sort of their letter, right, asking for permission if it says General Christophe so when [38:00] he’s president and then when he’s king because… and it seems like well, that’s like a small thing. Well, he’s saying you’re not recognizing me as the head of state and as, you know, so you can’t come in and this cause he confiscated American, U.S. American ships. And there were lawsuits and they continued and Christophe wrote letters to U.S. newspapers. You know Christophe was from the anglophone Caribbean. He was either most likely born in Grenada or Saint Kitts and had spent a lot of time in Saint Thomas, so he spoke English and he wrote or had his secretaries write to the United States [38:30] to explain to them why he confiscated these ships and that he was not going to give them the money back because the United States tried to sue basically and I mean, again, you can sue and you can win but how can you make another country pay, right? He said I’m not going to pay until they recognize my authority and actually the letters that you see from senators and the president at the time, Madison, James Madison say we can’t call him President. We [39:00] cannot call him king and it continues for years and they simply refuse to do it.
Deborah McDowell: And the refusal to recognize his authority is based largely in race.
Marlene Daut: It’s based in race and the idea that his power is illegitimate. So, I would say it is first on its face based on the idea that has power is illegitimate, but for the United States to not recognize that another nation another American nation would wish… or another part would wish [39:30] to be independent can only be explained by race because they had done that exact same thing. And that’s the thing when I say it is important not to make either the U.S. or Haiti exceptions because their histories are twinned and Haitians very much understood that. Because one of the things that angered Baron de Vatey about the U.S.’s lack of formal recognition was precisely that they out of any other nation should have understood and why would the United States, in his estimation side, with France and [40:00] not with another young nation of the American hemisphere, especially later when Monroe comes into the presidency and is talking about how we’re going to resist European incursions on American soil and sets up the idea of that protectionism that, you know, if Europe tries to come and conquer various places in Latin America that it declared themselves independent, for example, Gran Colombia from Spain that the U.S. would help out. Well, they would except in the case of Haiti right? There was no help from the U.S. [40:30] in the case of Haiti for that, and I do think that can only be explained by race. It can’t be politically explained because the United States was not against people declaring themselves independent from European powers, in fact quite the opposite. But they were against a former enslaved people declaring themselves free on their own without abolitionists, treaties, and emancipations and this and that and the reason we know that also again the indemnity between France and Haiti is 1825. [41:00] So why is it going to take until 1862 for the United States? How else can it be explained? They no longer have France as that obstacle to stand and they can no longer use that as an excuse. France has recognized Haitian Independence.
James Perla: So, just to clarify the dates of Haitian independence recognition from France of that independence and then recognition in the U.S.
Marlene Daut: Yes. So the Haitian formal independence is January 1st 1804. The indemnity treaty was April of 1825 [41:30] and the United States isn’t going to recognize Haitian Independence until 1862. So.
Rejecting Colonialism and Normalizing Blackness
Deborah McDowell: It says everything, I mean, you just make the statement and say no more. It speaks for itself. All right, you have suggested that Haitian… the Haitian Constitution criminalized color prejudice with mean by that?
Marlene Daut: So, Dessalines’s Article 14 is really famous because in that article he says that all [42:00] Haitians have to now be known under the generic denomination of black but proceeding that… and I think it’s really important because I actually don’t think you can understand what it means because you say oh, well, that’s very racist of Dessalines to say everybody has to be black because what would be the difference of saying everyone has to be white? Well, no. Because he makes blackness normative and in Haitian Creole the word for man is nèg from the French word nèegre and that’s any man of any color. To the generic word for man, but the first sentence of [42:30] Article 14 says all… it has a very interesting French word that’s not really in use today. It says “toute acceptation.” And so, I have translated that in different ways over the years but the ones I’ve rested on… the one I’ve rested on is all distinctions. So, “acceptation,” distinctions, which is really to say the recognition of someone as being a different color must necessarily cease. Now, I mean as a person who does study race, I think that Dessalines was a man of his [43:00] era in making that and the men, the architects of the constitution, because the idea was that it was the recognition of difference that led to the hierarchical treatments. But I actually don’t think that’s true, right? I don’t think that it is necessary to never recognize that someone might be another color but it’s the value that was attached to that and they lived in a world in which they, you know, these pseudo-scientific, you know, naturalist and travel writers had created a hundreds of different categories of skin color [43:30] and they had endowed them with meaning. A person with this mixture of quote-unquote white blood and will be like this person with this mixture and so in Dessalines’s mind, the way to, I think, this is my interpretation, the way to sort of get rid of that was to say you can’t do that. You can’t use those words anymore and in some of my work I’ve talked about how I think from the U.S. side where mulatto is like maybe a word that people would think it was weird if you use but it’s not an insult, right? in the [44:00] in 19th century. Haiti “mulatto” was an insult Baron de Vatey very strongly said, “it is with these injurious epithets of mulattoes and negroes that they hope to divide us.” That that idea that I’m going to calculate your color and I’m going to say what kind of relationship to civilization you have based on that and not only that, it’s not just going to inflict how I think about you, but I’m going to make policies and laws based on that and so what Dessalines is essentially saying is you can’t make any policy or law that has anything to do with skin color or race [44:30] except then of course, it’s sort of he goes on to do that by saying oh white women, Polish people, Germans, like all kinds of other people can also be Haitian and can be can be folded into the nation. It’s really colonists, and I’ve talked about this elsewhere that the 19th century Haitians create the idea of colonialism as bad because colonialism was not bad in the 19th century. You were supposed to try to be an empire the United States, its entire problem is it wants to be an empire and [45:00] they turn côlon in French into an epithet themselves and when you look at the Declaration of Independence, actually, it talked about the colonists not French. It was only later that it talked about French colonists. It was only later that that turned into whiteness in general, white men in general before it was French and French colonists. And I think that’s really important because one wonders like sort of what happened in those negotiations that changed to that language and the idea that [45:30] whiteness itself was a political category and not actually a skin color which I think is very strongly proven by the comment about white women, Polish people, and Germans being able to get citizenship and own property and do all of these things that is supposed to be precluded if you if you take whiteness as really a literal category for any person but also any person above what shade?
Deborah McDowell: Yes, right, and of course, I’m sure you’ve read about Jefferson’s mathematical… his [46:00] arithmetics of race, and it’s just absolutely insane. But let me not go there. Why do you think Haiti is not celebrated for its explicit affirmative actions toward equality?
The Inconvenience of Democracy
Marlene Daut: Oh, because I mean I think because it disrupts… it’s a very inconvenient story because what does democracy mean, right? So, if democracy means that everybody [46:30] has a say and participates, well, then probably no place like that exists on Earth to this day. When you think about voter disenfranchisement, you think of all kinds of different issues with it, but Haiti imagined a society that would be a racially equal society and by that I mean where you can say this group of people can be enslaved, this group of people can’t have that, this group of people… now with gender equality is another matter and will not come until later and be a much longer and harder struggle as it has been in most places, [47:00] but but in terms of the ideas of race and to a certain extent religion at various moments in Haitian history, I think it’s a difficult for people in the United States, specifically, to imagine that those ideas don’t… were not generated here. And that didn’t see their truest fruition here because you know constitutional scholars talk about, U.S. constitutional scholars, I mean, talk about how well, the U.S. Constitution was better than its makers even knew [47:30] because they did say all men are created equal and even though they didn’t think that black people were included in that category or whatever, they still wrote those words that could be universalizable but the problem is is whether you think that that sort of theoretical idea because literally that word men seems like a theoretical idea, but it was a literal idea to them. And so, what Haitians did was they took the theoretical out of it because I’ve talked in places about how actually if you look at the 1805 [48:00] Constitution, so Haiti’s first constitution, they define everything. They didn’t leave the door open the way that the United States did where it’s true, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything about slaves. This is… it doesn’t use that word. The Haitian Constitution says here’s who’s a person, here’s who is a citizen, here’s what blackness means, here’s what whiteness means, here’s what these… how these other categories fit. Here’s how religion is going to be dealt with. The U.S. Constitution in trying not to offend anyone, to please everyone, left the door open. [48:30] Yes, for subsequent interpretations and and revisions and implementations of the policy. But it also left the door open for, I mean, how long would it take to really enfranchise the black citizens of the United States until the 1960s? And one could even say that’s a law but is it being implemented? Well, that’s another story because when we look at mass incarceration and Talitha LeFlouria’s work just, you know, red[lining]- all kinds of things.
Deborah McDowell: Oh no, [49:00] in fact racism and discrimination and disenfranchisement always survive the policies and the laws. In fact, then the country will all but reverse itself entirely by evacuating the central clause of the Voting Rights Act of ’65 and thus opening the door to all forms of disenfranchisement. It’s including and especially this is the disenfranchisement of incarcerated people, but then lots of other people [49:30] all the gerrymandering.
Marlene Daut: All the gerrymandering. And the voter ID laws.
Deborah McDowell: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so ironic that in, I mean this is a kind of side point but then not because in my home state of Alabama the… on the very day, people are celebrating the annual trek over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, people are lamenting that section [50:00] 5 of the Voting Rights Act is gone. So, Alabama at that very moment shuts down something like 25 Department of Motor Vehicles offices because that’s where people could register to vote, right? And so, the overwhelming majority of DMV places in Selma and surrounding areas got closed. So, where people to go to register to vote? I mean, it’s just really absolutely [50:30] it’s vote… blatant voter suppression. Or in Georgia when the man who was certifying votes is also running for government. I mean, you couldn’t put any of this in a novel but it… there it is. So again, it’s really quite remarkable to think that Haiti which really offers us a kind of blueprint that one could say is truly radical, truly [51:00] anti-racist, truly anti-colonial, doesn’t get represented as such.
Marlene Daut: I mean and I think it’s also because the world did punish Haiti and Haitians for this and you know it, you know, it doesn’t take just as we were talking about the sort of timeline to recognition on the U.S. side, right? and different factors involved. It doesn’t take, you know, you don’t have to be a physicist like a like an astronomer or something. You don’t do read the stars. You don’t have to like look to the cosmos [51:30] for the answer to the question because how is it that when black people want to be free and when black people try to create policies about freedom, that the world comes to oppose them? And I think that when Christophe makes himself a king, the astonishing thing is that people in the northern part of the United States, in the northern press, support him. They think it’s a great idea and that it’s the only way to keep France away. And I think that [52:00] we have to listen more to the way that events were read in their era in order to understand their repercussions today because I think that for some of those Northern writers who were in support of Haitian Independence, sometimes because of monetary reasons, because they thought, “Oh, then the floodgates are really open for the trade,” right? “If we can do this and we can do all kinds of things and go there” and, you know, but also that, you know, having a black king. When you are a person who is not racist, there’s no problem with a black king. [52:30] A black king is a problem, and Haitian writers point this out, if you are a racist. A black republican… a republic is a problem if you are a racist because why are you opposing and making things so difficult? And, you know, the United States waits and waits and waits to have a reason to intervene in Haiti and uses the assassination of a Haitian president to… as a justification for the U.S. occupation because other presidents and other world leaders had been assassinated and where was the U.S.?
The U.S. 1915 Invasion of Haiti
Deborah McDowell: Precisely. [53:00] Tell our audience a little bit more about the US invasion of Haiti in 1915.
Marlene Daut: Yes, so the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and they stayed until 1934 and they were opposed, of course, in various moments during that long time period and led to thousands of deaths and, you know, would talk about the railroads that they built and I mean Aimé Césaire in Discourse on Colonialism references this like it doesn’t matter how many railroads you build it will never, [53:30] he says, weigh so much as one spark of human sympathy that you think lives are worth a piece of machinery on the road that can make transportation easier. And they… the United States also impounds all the Haitian government’s revenue. So, bankrupting the country a second time and this is largely seen for political theorists and for Haitians or historians of Haiti as a watershed moment, they call it. That’s the word people most often used in Haitian history because Haiti never recovers [54:00] from that from their money. Basically the gold coffers being confiscated by the United States. They never recover… debt cycles continue and are exacerbated and there’s a direct link between what happens when the U.S. leaves in 1934 and the rise of the [François] Duvalier regime and the idea again that the only way to fix all of this is an autocratic… to close Haiti off to make… to have autocratic power, the power that rests with one person. At least this is sort of the idea that is promoted to the Haitian people. [54:30] And the sad thing is, and there are other people at this university are experts on this more than I am, Robert Fatton, for example. But the sad thing is that you know life under Duvalier, if you sort of stay out of his way and don’t get disappeared is better for some people it’s always worse for some people, the people always suffer as, you know, Jean Dominique famous radio personality, and he said people always going to suffer under these this kind of and power in general, right? But [55:00] and that doesn’t help the case, right because after the overthrow of Duvalier’s son [Nicholas Duvalier] who’s called Baby Doc, the poverty that we know in Haiti today. This is the moment when that poverty is exacerbated to levels that are unlivable and inconceivable that as human beings we would inflict this kind of debt cycle and like, you know, lack of support for Haitian government [55:30]. I’m thinking the [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide coup, the first one. That we would inflict this on another nation because it’s willful really says a lot about how people in the United States especially but the Western World in quotation marks more generally thinks about black people and the worthiness of their lives because I can’t imagine any other place in the world where people would just allow this situation to occur and, you know, except that in Somalia or in Rwanda or in Ethiopia as [56:00] we have seen, but look at the back-breaking measures that Trump is willing to go for Venezuela, for example. Or that people in the name of Afghanistan or in the name of the Iraqi people and whether or not they actually care about those people are not… but it’s striking. It is striking, and Haiti has no oil and Haitians have pointed that out. They have no oil, they know that the entire policy the United States is to keep patients from coming to the United States at this point.
Deborah McDowell: Yes, which brings me… [56:30] we can’t take unlimited use of your time. But you know back to the famous shithole comment of over a year ago around which we organized a round table. You just I get, you know, reinforce that through the concept of Haiti and that that notion of the shithole country as really epitomizing and compressing the ideas you just talked [57:00] about.
Anti-Colonialism in Haiti
James Perla: So, yeah before finishing up I… there was one sort of clarifying thing. You mentioned one article that was really important in the Constitution. But I wonder if you could speak very briefly on the article about anti-colonial, the anti-colonial nature and that’s just a sort of final detail before… Then I’ll open it up that you have other things to add.
Marlene Daut: Yes, Article 36 basically says that the emperor can never pursue any conquest and references that kind of language that was found in the [57:30] Declaration of Independence of 1804 about Haiti’s not going to become one of the legislators of the Caribbean, that it’s not their job. And actually Baron de Vatey later would say, you know, Haiti is one of the islands in this archipelago and it’s not itself the Caribbean, right? That we… and it’s interesting because abolitionists at the time and later in the 19th century read this as Haiti didn’t come and help the rest of the world. That they didn’t help the rest of the enslaved population. And you know, my interpretation [58:00] of that is that the idea that you can use human lives and another place to extend your philosophy of the world is something that Haitians were unwilling to do for pragmatic reasons. They knew that they could keep the United States or Great Britain for example from invading them if they promised not to intervene in the slave economies of those nations, but also because it extends so far and continues into the 19th century, we see that it really is a part of Haitian [58:30] kind of understandings of their political identity is that… and Haiti to this day has never invaded another country because as the work of Anne Eller, historian of the Dominican Republic, shows in We Dream of Freedom, I think it’s called? When Boyer reunites the two sides of the island, this is done with the explicit consent of the Eastern side of the Spanish side of the island, the Eastern side. It’s a treaty that they make and yes when he’s deposed by the Haitians then the now side that’s the Dominican Republic [59:00] decides to go their own way, but appeals to Haiti to help. They invite Spain back to colonize them again, and then they realize that Spain, which still has slavery in its empire, until astonishingly 1883 in Puerto Rico. For example, they realize that well if we invite Spain to come back, if Spain can bring back slavery here, appeals to the Haitians for help. And when the Cuban Liberating Army led by Ramón Emeterio Betances wants to [59:30] liberate Cuba from Spain. Who… where do they go? They go to Haitians and say where are the people more than any other who… you must help us, you have to help us. And when the Haitian government under [Guillaume] Fabre Geffrard denies aid to Santo Domingo, the Eastern side of the island, the Haitian people do it anyway, and he has to change course. So, the Haitian people disagree with his policy of non-intervention and take it upon themselves to hide people from the Spanish side. So, from Santo Domingo and so [1:00:00] anti-colonialism in Haiti, while not always in the laws, it doesn’t appear again when their constitutions revised in the 1840s for example, stays with the Haitian people. They… in… during the U.S. occupation. In fact, W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson who both wrote articles just diatribes against what is the United States doing referenced the fact that Haitians had never ever tried to colonize another… that they’d never declared war against another country. And so, [1:00:30] when I think it’s Du Bois who says here are peaceful Haitian citizens. He doesn’t mean that internally in Haiti there’s no problems. He’s saying why are you, another country, them the United States going there to bother these people who he says have they ever hurt an American citizen? Have you ever touched a hair on an American citizen’s head? And so, the idea was that yes, they might have problems and they might be harming one another even and it would be one thing if it was well, let’s help them not… but you [1:01:00] don’t help people not do that by killing them and the… and I’m so that… I think that in the Haitian case of the earlier moments of not intervening, you don’t help people by saying we’re going to bring a war to you because Boisrond-Tonnerre in his… in the first full-length history like sort of immediate history, I should say, that was written after the Haitian revolution in 1805 is called Memory to Serve as the History of Haiti. He says at the end, “Dessalines has shown you the way.” So, who’s he talking to, right? That the keys to this liberty are in your hands [1:01:30] because that the idea is… and this is repeated in like Martin Delaney’s, Blake, for example, is he says we can’t look to Haiti, we have to do it. That Haiti can’t come and save you if you were enslaved here… you have hands and you have feed and you have a voice and you can do it. David Walker said the same thing.
Deborah McDowell: David Walker, in 1829 and yes, absolutely. You teach this course, The Age of Revolutions, and I’m just imagining [1:02:00] pairing documents, for example, pairing the Haitian Revolution, I mean, the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. What would you want your students to draw from these documents?
Comparing the Founding Documents
Marlene Daut: I actually do that. They compare them. Oh, they think that the Haitian… and these are, you know, we’re at UVA. These are students who have a good education in Jefferson. Most of my students, I took a poll once, [1:02:30] almost all of them were from Virginia. They are very… they know their constitutional U.S. history. They thought the Haitian Revolution was the most radical thing they’d ever seen in… most… the vast majority said why didn’t I know about this? I can’t believe… they are in dismay and disbelief at the U.S. education system that they don’t know this and it helps to put the documents in front of them because it’s not like, oh I’m some ideologue who just wants to prop up Haitians or prop up blackness or like this not racial uplift. This is just a [01:03:00] fact of a document that sits there and you can interpret it. They could have… they’re free and we interpret them they’re to say, well I disagree with and they do they say I disagree with this and that and, you know, our students can be very socially social justice oriented maybe or the ones who take my classes, so they’re not sure that they can go with Dessalines as far as, you know, sort of April Mandate of Death or expulsion of the French, but they understand it, and especially when we read that in light of what happened to Toussaint L’Ouverture, which of course they think is… and that’s another thing. [1:03:30] I think it’s just one of the biggest tragedies in the world because this was a man, a black man, who thought that he really could sit at the table with white power for lack of a better term and negotiate with them and that they would listen. He did everything they wanted. He wrote in his constitution of 1801. We will die here free and French and they still killed him and to me that is a metaphor for the rest of the world is you can capitulate to the powers of whiteness. You could capitulate to authority all you want but at the first moment they [1:04:00] could they killed him. They took him away and they killed him and it didn’t matter that he had gone home to his plantation. was no longer opposing them.
Deborah McDowell: But he had the temerity originally and for that he had to pay. Yeah, and always you will always have to pay, absolutely. So again, this is a series about Jefferson and kind of the subtitle of the series is Jefferson Beyond Jefferson, and we take that [1:04:30] Jefferson Beyond Jefferson from Michael Hart in an article that he wrote in… he’s largely suggesting that Jefferson begins in many respects as a revolutionary, but that almost none of the revolutionary implications of his work, in writings, especially in the Declaration were ultimately fulfilled and so what we have to do with [1:05:00] Jefferson, he argues, is to take Jefferson beyond Jefferson, take his work and his writings beyond the place where he left them that it then will fall to later philosophers and thinkers to push those ideas through to their practical implementation. All right. So, here we sit and this is a long preamble. So, here we see it at the University of Virginia thinking about Jefferson [1:05:30] for a podcast on his relationship to Haiti. What should we be teaching our students then including and beyond these documents that you just alluded to? What do… What does knowing about Haiti… How does knowing about Haiti recast Jefferson in important lights?
Going Beyond Thomas Jefferson
Marlene Daut: I think that another world is possible because I actually think that that, [1:06:00] you know, when I do get pushed back in my work, it’s along the lines of those who would say, for example, the same thing about Jefferson that you just mentioned that we have to go beyond Jefferson. We have to go beyond the Haitian rulers themselves because could they implement their policies? Did they implement their policies is a different question than whether or not they imagined them. So, the world they imagined in many respects did not come to fruition in some respects it did. They created a black state [1:06:30] that had black political institutions, that had black people at the helm, you know, when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, I was… I went to Haiti two days after that and I said, what do you think about that? And the first person said, “Barack Obama is an American problem.” Like basically like why are you asking me about that? You know, like I just assumed they cared about that and then the next person said the next person I had this conversation with said, “I’m so glad that the that Haiti that the United States has caught up to Haiti. We had a black president and a black ruler in 1804 and I’m so [1:07:00] glad that it only took you this many years to catch up to us,” right? And so, I think that we have to go beyond the United States. We have to go beyond Jefferson. We have to go beyond Haiti and we have to imagine a more egalitarian world as crazy as it sounds because of course people thought the United States was crazy. People thought the Haitians were crazy and basically all these things that they were doing but also if you would to tell someone in the 19th century that we’d be doing this right now and you’d be [1:07:30] projecting my voice into this box they’d think you were crazy. So, another world is always possible and our lack of imagination baffles me when we have microchips that do like actual magical things that I think we’ve got to come up with better laws and better egalitarian… And we have to dream big, we have to not decide this person in this group won’t agree and let them disagree but let us dream it anyway and let us put it down and paper and let us, you know, leave it for posterity.
Deborah McDowell: That could be a [01:08:00] place of we… that’s so powerful.
James Perla: That’s a wonderful place. Unless there’s anything else you’d like to add, you know, we’re being mindful of your time that it’s a lovely place to conclude this.
Deborah McDowell: It is what world can we imagine. But any burning thoughts, that is a great place end, but any burning thoughts you might have you might want to just… on any topic pertaining however loosely to Jefferson and Haiti or Haiti or Haiti’s implications [1:08:30] for thinking about democracy, egalitarianism or whatever.
Marlene Daut: No, I mean this is a great podcast and a great idea to elaborate on Jefferson’s ideas and the idea of Jefferson as it relates to sort of multiple different strands of things that were important to him in his life because I think that probably as we talked about, the Louisiana Purchase, a lot of people don’t know they know the Sally Hemings story, they probably know oh vice presidency, they know [01:09:00] presidency, they know these things, right? Or they’ve heard of them and of the Declaration of Independence, but I think Haiti is a part of that story that often gets left out even though it’s a really… it was a really important part of the story for him because he lived in the era of the Haitian Revolution and of course because it leads to the Louisiana Purchase and because it calls into question a lot of the policies in the United States. And so, I think kind of that this podcast is going to exist and elaborate on the things [1:09:30] that shaped Jefferson’s world in his life that are undoubtable, you know, Sally Hemings, for example. That it is impossible to see how he could have lived and created policies and moved through this world without thinking about all of these things that he was confronted with every day and that they couldn’t have shaped his mind and his images and since we have so many of his letters. We know that they did.
The Legacy of Sally Hemings
Deborah McDowell: We know that they did. I mean when he is talking about I shudder when I think that God is… I mean he clearly… the spectre [1:10:00] of Haiti, the spectre of Saint-Domingue is in his mind all the time. James, I’m sorry. I did want to ask Marlene about Sally Hemings. We worked, I think, we spent twice as long on the Sally Hemings podcast than on the first episode would you say? Would that be fair to say?
James Perla: Relative, yeah. I mean maybe in terms of intellectual energy, in terms of time commitment. [1:10:30]
Deborah McDowell: Intellectual energy, time commitment, and I’ve come to think Sally Hemings just has fought us at every step of the way. Every time we think we’re done with that episode which was going to come out in in March. She fought us every which way, every time we thought we were done and I would say, James we’re not done, we’re not done. And so, we are now not back to the full drawing board, but we are going back for one [1:11:00] last time. This time, we’re going to let it go no matter what, but we centered that episode in this exhibition at Monticello, right? And Monticello posed this really provocative question in its signage outside the exhibition. Was it rape? Was it affection? Yes, they went there. Yeah, was it affection? Was there compliance? [1:11:30] And that’s the signage, so we thought in… which is why we named the episode, Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings, that we would really try to look at the terms that people invoke in an attempt to understand that relationship.
That what can we… What language can we use that isn’t presentist? That is not anachronistic that still captures the brutality of slavery, right? So, we [1:12:00] kind of let ourselves settle into the two terms that seem to be central in any of these discussions. One is rape and one is love/affection. Love being the extreme, that that’s a bridge too far for many people. So, although I’m just wanting for my own curiosity, what I found is that the one point on which diehard defenders of Jefferson and diehard defenders [1:12:30] of Hemings will agree is on the concept of love from opposite directions. The Jeffersonians say, “Oh no, he couldn’t possibly love her. She was a slave. This was the man. He was a head of state. He was cosmopolitan that he was the most famous man in the world that he would love an enslaved woman? No.” People on the Sally Hemings side love know that its a completely inadmissible term because it denies the brutality of slavery. That the only way [1:13:00] we can talk about this relationship is she was the victim of rape. Now, this is a relationship that was… about which we know very little but we seem to know that it lasted for almost 40 years. All right. So, what are your thoughts about the resistance to imagining a possibility for talking about Sally Hemings as other than the victim, pure and simple, of unwanted sexual aggression? [1:13:00]
Marlene Daut: Oh boy, yeah. That… my understanding from Annette Gordon-Reed’s work and from hearing her speak on several occasions is that her interpretation to a certain extent is that Sally Hemings was a negotiator and she negotiated her survival in a world that was essentially constructed to kill her and I’ve talked about this in writing about Haitian women under slavery in Saint-Domingue. [1:14:00] And so, I would say that Sally Hemings is a radical regardless of how you interpret the relationship because if you survive and you ensure the survival of your children in a system of death that wants to kill them, that wants them to be below the ground. There are enslaved people below the ground at this very site, right? Then I say, I think survival is radical and so she did, in my interpretation, [1:14:30] she did what she had to do and the question of whether she could have fallen in love with him or he with her during that, I mean, I’ve talked about this actually in a different podcast and I said, I mean what is love though? And what is love in the 19th century? And I think that partly we are… and there were plenty of married people in the 19th century who were married because people told them to and there was money given here and they were betrothed or they were first cousins and let’s keep it all in the family like literally the money and whatever the inheritance. So, what is love? [1:15:00] The idea that that if she negotiated her… that she’s like a traitor or that she was… No, but she would have been a woman of her era and her ability to become a woman of her era is remarkable in the sense of deciding that this is a strategic move. That she can ensure that her children can have a better life than she had and this is, you know, the Hemings children. I believe is Eston Hemings, but I could be wrong [1:15:30] that that Gordon-Reed says, you know, wrote this document in which he very much explains. Madison Hemings wrote in which he very much explained his mother’s thoughts on the matter and that in the document, he describes them as having a family, and I think it’s really important not to discount how other people feel about their own lives because we feel so viscerally that which and not wrongly, we feel so viscerally that this is [1:16:00] so blatantly unfair that this was a choice that anyone would even be confronted with and Saidiya Hartman’s words, “you have a choice,” in quotation marks. We feel the injustice of it so strongly that we cannot imagine that someone else is feeling that the feeling that she could live and survive and have a life. And like Harriet Jacobs, Linda Brent, from The Narrative [Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl] that maybe you feel better going with this person than with that person.
Deborah McDowell: Yes, [1:16:30] and it’s Jacob that says, “It’s better to give oneself to the person you want.” But, you know, again and we reference Annette Gordon-Reed throughout and a variety of other historians, many of them black women, who have written very very engagingly and persuasively about women under slavery in the very… and the gamut of relationships in which they were engaged, but it really continues to baffle me that despite [1:17:00] that research, despite that evidence. For example, Sally Hemings’s sister lived with, got herself purchased by another planter in Virginia and they lived together also for decades. Not as man and wife in the legal sense, because there was no recognition of slave marriages, but they cohabited, they lived together, they had children, and those children benefited with [1:17:30] the bequested property from that relationship. But there is this… It seems to me the baffling thing is that despite what we know, we don’t want to acknowledge that Sally Hemings might have had a relationship with this man who was her enslaver. That that is a possibility. Why can’t we… Why is the question so unthinkable? You’re absolutely [1:18:00] right in asking what is love in the 19th century because love is like any emotion. It’s something that lives in history. Yeah. Absolutely. When people talk about Sally Hemings as having been raped and Jefferson as having been a pedophile, the age of consent at that moment is ten. Alright. And so, it’s as if we don’t want to honor, we don’t want to listen to what we know about the history of the time. So, I just thought I would ask you that question because people [1:18:30] fight tooth and nail that it is impossible to even introduce this idea into the equation. And so, you know, I have been trying to adapt the work of people like Martha Nussbaum or Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in talking about political emotions. That people really aligning themselves, really [1:19:00] based on an idea of history and what you suffered literally or what your ancestors suffered, and that commits you to an interpretation. Yes. And that interpretation can… it trumps historical knowledge.
Marlene Daut: And I mean to people who would say that it was impossible for there to have been any kind of version of love, I would just say, “Have you ever loved a bad person?” [1:19:30]
Deborah McDowell: Yes. There is no one who can say… who has been in love… I can write the book. I say I am a card carrying member of the romantically challenged club. So, yes.
Marlene Daut: Have you ever loved a bad man? Has a woman ever loved a bad man? You can understand exactly how it could happen because think about Jefferson’s mind that… People talk about this great mind that Sally Hemings, as a feeling person, also the idea that she isn’t a sexual person [1:20:00], that she, that black women, enslaved women in particular, but actually also black women in general, do not… are not sexual beings. I think a lot of that is folded into it. But also that she couldn’t have thought that he was charismatic.
Deborah McDowell: Right! He’s the most powerful man in world at this particular time, you know. And anyway, I’ll just mention this one last thing. Or do we have time to mention one last thing.
James Perla: I don’t think… Well you said you had a meeting.
Marlene Daut: Yeah, I have to go.
James Perla: We’re already overtime. [1:20:30] But, yeah, thank you so much for… This was very helpful in thinking about two episodes now.