Marlene Daut Transcript

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.?

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.

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?

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?

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.

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.

Marlene Daut


Interviewee: Marlene Daut, Associate Professor of African Diaspora Studies at UVA
Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla
Interview date:
Interview Summary: Interview with Marlene Daut, Associate Professor.
Keywords:
Transcription: Maggie Pollard

Introductions

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.

Robert Fatton, Jr.

Transcript (text only)

Interviewee: Robert Fatton, Jr., Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia

Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla

Interview date: 2018-06-15

Interview Summary: This interview with Robert Fatton Jr.,the Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, delves into Jefferson’s controversial view on the country of Haiti. Fatton discusses the relationship between Haiti and the U.S. since the Haitian Revolution and the ways in which Jefferson’s language describing Haiti as a “republic of cannibals” has reemerged in the present discourse.

Keywords: Haiti, Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, France, Sally Hemings

Transcription: Hahna Cho

Sally Hemings Exhibition at Monticello

Deborah McDowell: Yeah, you know I’m just thinking about… my mind is roving over a whole range of things. I haven’t yet seen the new exhibition at Monticello. 

Robert Fatton, Jr.: Oh!

DM: That’s supposedly devoted to Sally Hemings. 

RF: That’s interesting. 

DM: Yes, and oh, yes I want to see it in different lights. I want to see it. As a private person, I want to see it in with a group of friends, and then I want to take a group of students there because it is all based on the imagination. Or an imaginary Sally Hemings because there, you know, maybe there was one photograph maybe and that photograph bore a strong resemblance to Martha Washington because they were half sisters but it’s an exhibition that is imagining a Sally Hemings down to her space in the big house, as it were. And so we, it makes me think that here we are now, for however long we will be I don’t know, at a moment where at least Monticello, which is the caretaker of, in part, of Jefferson’s memory, his legacy, especially as an icon. That that narrative seems to be changing. That people seem to be open to changing the narrative about Thomas Jefferson if only by acknowledging that Sally Hemings existed. She existed as someone in possibly a long-term relationship with him and someone in a relationship with him that resulted in the birth of children and yet it all has to be imagined and there is an element of speculation about everything, right? That we don’t know… this is where we think she slept, right? And all of that. So, thinking about the absence of the kind of iconic figure, the face of which is beaming from every poster, billboard, or lunch counter, if you will. That that’s absent in Cuba but still is very much alive here. So, this is not so much a question but a kind of long-winded preamble to try to have us just… into it. But what I found interesting is that there are two interpretations warring not violently with each other even with this new Jefferson that we’re trying to imagine. Because in the New York Times’ review of the exhibition, the young people who are responsible for setting up the exhibition, who want to invoke the issue of rape basically want to say on the museum or the exhibition placards, “Jefferson raped Sally Hemings.” And yet there are other historians now retired from Monticello who are obviously taking umbrage, but they don’t want to say that in so many words. So, someone for example like Cinder Stanton says “Well, how do you talk about a person raping another person for thirty plus years?” That that’s unimaginable. We don’t think of that as rape. If there are sexual relations between people over the span of thirty-five years, we aren’t inclined to view that as rape. And so all of that is a long way into saying that these narratives die hard even when people think that they are open to rethinking them.

RF: Yeah.

Interpretations of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings' Relationship

DM: The iconic figure of Jefferson dies hard. Not only that, and I must say myself as not a person who is not worshipping at the shrine of Jefferson, I too kind of bristle at the thought that Jefferson is being represented as having raped Sally Hemings and it all got me thinking about the extreme interpretations that all of us have been, in a way, in the grip of for quite a while. That there is [5:00] not much room for nuance. Either he raped her or he didn’t.

RF: The thing though is that because of the racism, extreme racism of the period because of slavery, whatever Jefferson did to a slave could not be rape because it was a thing. So, the idea even if he did in fact rape her, in his eyes, it’s not rape because it’s a thing that is out there, it’s an object, it’s not a full human being. And when you read Jefferson’s writings about the sexual desires of black men and black women it is absolutely horrific. In The Notes on Virginia [sic], I mean when he talks about, you know, the orangutan, it’s really, it’s terrorizing for someone who is not white and not a slave owner because that’s the way he sees it. So, in his eyes, whatever he did to any slave couldn’t be seen as some sort of relation between two different human beings because one was not quite a human being. 

DM: Yeah two different orders of species, right?

RF: And Jefferson went back and forth because he does say at some points that maybe they are inferior. But other points he doesn’t seem to say so. He was conflicted about whether there was a real biological difference that would essentially say that one race was completely superior over the other. At other points he does seem to say so and that’s very clear.

DM: And he equivocates. He constantly equivocates.

A Republic of Cannibals

RF: Yeah, absolutely. And at that period, Jefferson was probably one of the most reactionary individuals who had read about the Enlightenment among whites. You know, there are plenty of whites who were abolitionists and his relation with Haiti it’s very clear that he comes, well, he called, you know, the Haitians the republic of cannibals. So, that is the way he saw it. But on the other hand, at certain moments because of geopolitical and economic interest he would curb his racism because you wanted to weaken, on the one hand, the French which meant that you could, you know, in a very duplicitous way allow American merchants to give weapons to the Haitian Revolution, the slave revolutionaries, and you could continue commerce that was good for the merchant and the bankers of the United States, but on the other hand you would tell the French, “No we are with you and we are going to starve Toussaint.” So, for a while the US’s merchant relationship, economic relationship with Haiti and it probably would have continued if Adams had stayed in power. But once the revolution is over, once Haiti becomes independent, then there’s a complete change of policy. It is an embargo, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Haiti, Haitians, the Haitian leader at the time, Dessalines, sent him a letter telling him “I’m not going to do anything in terms of exporting my revolution, but we need to have relations” and he never answers. 

DM: So, everything for Jefferson is expedient from your description. Everything is expedient. 

RF: Well, yes, and no. Because there is the issue of race, which is always in the background because when he’s talking about Haiti under Toussaint [L’Ouverture] which was kind of an autonomous state not yet independent, this is also the potential to give independence to Haiti, so Haiti could be a colony for black people. Send them there. But he says at the same time it has to be contained. And he says, when he uses the word, the pest has to be contained on the island. So, that’s kind of a colony for black people, to export black people from the United States. So, he has at one moment the idea the independence might not be such a bad thing provided on the other hand that Haitians would not have a navy and would not have any weapons. So, he wanted a completely pacified island for his colonial purposes. 

DM: I’m really interested in the last few minutes you’ve made reference to Jefferson’s [10:00] description of Haiti as “a republic of cannibals” and then Haitian people are pests. This language of, you’re right, it’s not, it does not place Haitian citizens in the realm of humanity, right? 

RF: But on the other hand, he looked at Toussaint as somewhat, “what a weird guy,” you know? He’s defying some of the things I’m thinking about black people but he’s still…

DM: He’s still a pest.

Haitian Independence versus U.S. Independence

RF: Yeah, he’s still a pest. And he looks also at Haiti as… and it’s not just Jefferson. Madison says the same thing that they need a despot at the head of Haiti because that’s the only way you can contain people who were slaves who’ve become free. There is a vision that if you give freedom to the slaves, that is going to be horrific because they are going to kill, kill, and kill. So, there is that vision. Now, I’ve just read an article, which is kind of peculiar article, saying that Jefferson when he talked about Haiti as the republic of cannibals, he was not really referring to Haitians, per se, he was referring to the Jacobins. The French Jacobins. But that is kind of a weird thing. A lot of the American leaders at the time thought that the French Revolution went too far in terms of the killings under Robespierre. But, I read the letter that where he uses Haiti as the republic of cannibals, a letter to Aaron Burr, and I don’t see how you can explain that expression without looking at the direct connection to Haiti. But there is that thing that in fact he may have also wanted to talk about the Jacobins. But we know that Jefferson was a Francophile and he was more sympathetic to the revolution than Adams, I mean they were really terrified about the excesses of the revolution. So, I think that that description is still the one that should hold. That he sees that and when he talks about the pests contained, that’s also about Haiti. So, and he wants to embargo and he wants to quarantine the island if it gets independent and when it got its independence, that’s exactly what he did.

James Perla: So, the comment about that a despot should rule over Haiti, that comes after independence?

RF: That comes before and after. That if there is to be independence, in any case it’s going to be a despot because that’s the only way those people can be ruled. They are not yet ready for our kind of democracy, as it were, but that’s part also of the way American leaders are the vision of America’s exceptional place in the world because when you look at the United States it was hardly a democracy. First, you had slavery obviously, but most people didn’t have the vote. It’s about 5% of the population which had the vote and they were all whites who owned property and all male. So, the idea there was a democracy is really a far-fetched idea. It’s kind of, you know, the building of founding, foundational myth about democracy because there was no democracy at the time even though that you talk about, you know, the equality of people, etc, etc. But there was no such thing even in terms of the French eyes. So, and this is, all countries do the same thing among the Haitians when they created Haiti. You know, whether it be [Jean-Jacques] Dessalines or Toussaint, the other vision of Haiti was exceptional, the most radical revolution of all places, which it was actually at that time, but they were despots all of them without exception. When they took power they ran the show like messianic leaders and you can you know Toussaint was declared governor for life in his own Constitution, Dessalines became the first leader of Haiti after independence in 1804 and in the very first speech he gives he says you people you’d better watch out and you should never disobey me. He says that. And that’s the way they ran the show and they became emperors, so you have that kind of vision that we are doing something completely new, very different but the structures of inequality, the structures of domination are all there. And those are founding myths and this is very difficult. I don’t want American or Haitian to look at it and say well they were, those people were really despots.

JP: So, you’re saying the two were almost competing… 

RF: They’re kind of two competing for, obviously the United States is much more powerful. So, therefore [15:00] the exception is of the United States does matter not just what United States but for the rest of the world because the exceptional idea of the United States is that this is “the city on the hill” and that it’s exporting democracy all over and that if you don’t follow our way, well, it’s going to be our way or else. Especially if you’re in the Caribbean. Whereas Haiti could say whatever they wanted, but it had no impact because we didn’t have the power. And essentially Haiti relinquishes any revolutionary vision the very day that it becomes independent because they are fearful that if they spread the revolution elsewhere, I mean in terms of slaves getting their freedom, that they will be destroyed and they would have been destroyed by the United States or by the French or by the British or a combination of all of them. So, there is a difference between exceptionalism that is for national consumption, but has no real power and one that is for not only national consumption, but that is for also international consumption backed by the power of the most powerful nations. So, those are different kinds of exceptionalism, but the myths are very similar.

DM: One is much more rhetorical, and one is rhetorical with a lot of back, of force of ammunition.

RF: Of force of power. Absolutely. And that’s very clear.

DM: You know, it’s been a while since I read C.L.R. James’, The Black Jacobins. Does he talk at all about Jefferson in Haiti? 

Who is French? The Black and French Jacobins

RF: He doesn’t talk much about it because he looks obviously the title of the book is The Black Jacobins. So, it’s much more vision of the Haitian revolutionaries as espousing, if you wish, the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1789 than the American Revolution. So, it’s a continuity between the Jacobins and… the French Jacobins and the so-called Black Jacobin. And Toussaint was a Francophile. So, it was very clear and he used to send letters to the French leaders, especially to Napoleon saying “du premier de noir au premier de blanc”, “to the first white from the first black.” That’s the way he saw himself. And he was a Francophile and he was in some ways very radical in other ways very conservative and I think the idea of France and the French Revolution, even when Napoleon became the main leader in France, led him to trust the French. And he was, you know, trapped in Haiti and he was captured and sent to France and he died in France and the letters that he writes, a letter saying “What are you doing to me? I’m a French general.” And “what about my family? I can’t see them. How can you treat the French general, someone who’s been…” and Napoleon doesn’t even bother to answer it.1

DM: So, there is French and there is French? Who’s French? 

RF: Yeah that and this is one of the things with after, Toussaint, once he is sent into exile in jail in France, Dessalines decides we are not going to have anything to do with the French, we’re going to kill them. And he says this very clearly, you know, and he takes the French flag and the white part of the French flag he destroys. And he puts the red and the blue which is the Haitian flag. So, that is also very… Dessalines is not a Francophile. I mean, he hates the French. He doesn’t trust them, he thinks they are slave owners and that they are killing slaves. There is no place for friends and he doesn’t want them and the first constitution says no single inch of the Haitian territory can be owned by whites and he really means the French. 

DM: It’s very interesting when you start looking at people who are apostles of freedom, who are freedom fighters, who give their lives for the cause of freedom and for many people that means some kind of unqualified investment in the countries they seek to liberate, right? That, this is an imperfect analogy, but as you were just talking about, Toussaint as Francophile, I was thinking about [Frederick] Douglass because my niece and nephew went to the museum and came back with lots of questions about Douglass and you know Douglass is one of the leading abolitionists. He’s clearly the premiere [20:00] speaker on the abolition circuit throughout the 19th century. And yeah, he was really quite identified with interests that many people would consider quite conservative and at the end of his life, is very much somebody who was a supplicant on the day of [Abraham] Lincoln’s second election or inauguration…. [cough] he’s… no, it wouldn’t have been [his second inauguration]….  I need to verify this, in any case, he has become something of a supplicant: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Frederick Douglass” And everybody’s saying well, you may think that means something but it doesn’t mean anything to us. So, he becomes very much a person who was trying to claim his own black exceptionalism before people who, I mean even if Lincoln is going to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, we know all the complications of that. That it’s black people who really fought for and rested their own freedom, that Lincoln was not their great emancipator, but it is Douglass who keeps thinking that he can somehow mediate between black people and those in power and that those in power could actually find him a more palatable black person to deal with.

RF: The thing with Toussaint is that, as you know, Toussaint was a slave then he became a slave owner and then he became someone who fought against slavery and he was not one of the first ones. But then he became the leader because he was truly a military genius. But he… during the, there were several powers in Haiti: the Spaniards, the British, the French, and he was in the mid-1790s, he was with the Spaniards. But the French Assembly declared that slavery was abolished and there was a French commissioner who was a Jacobin and an abolitionist and he introduced a proclamation in Haiti in 1794, I think, or 1793, I would need to check on that but saying that the slaves were freed in the north of the country in particular there was some ambiguity. So, once he heard that, he shifted and he trusted the French because he thought that the Jacobin, and this is again to go back to James’ book, that is why he had the conviction “well the French are different, maybe” because they are abolishing slavery. “The Jacobins are different people.” They are not like, you know, the Spaniards they are doing it and they are proclaiming it, this a real break with the past. So, there is that kind of affinity with the Jacobin but Toussaint was a conservative guy. And it was also a conservatism that was brought about by the Haitian economy.

Code Noir: France's Regulation of Slave Trade

RF: The Haitian economy functioned on slavery and on sugar. So, once you abolish slavery, you had a real problem because how are you going to get the economy going when it’s completely dependent on sugar? So, what all the Haitian leaders, not just Toussaint, up until the 1820s, they impose really a nasty what is called a “Code Noir” and it’s essentially forced labor on the plantations. It’s not slavery, but it is forced labor and it’s really very a tough thing, even kids are involved. So, the idea was that the only way that Haiti could survive is by having flourishing plantations. The only way that the plantation economy at that particular time could be beneficial was if you had forced labor, not necessary slavery, but forced labor. And there is even some writings of Toussaint saying well, we may even import some slaves from Africa to do the dirty work. So, it was a complicated period after 1804, slavery is abolished but the Code Noir, Toussaint wants, [Alexandre] Pétion wants it, but I mean all of the successive leaders, [Henri] Christophe wants it, because that’s the only way you can survive. The problem though is that the slaves would have none of it. I mean, they fought for slavery and they were essentially people, as we say in Haiti, they were involved in marronage continuously. The state could say something that we would evade and we would get a little plot of land and that would be that so they could never impose [25:00] the Code Noir effectively. And the other problem was that there was, the United States was not in the business of doing business with Haiti, which was the real problem and the French were not in that business either. So, once Haiti gets its independence, it is kind of cordoned off as kind of a rogue state.

JP: And so what’s “marronage?”

RF: Marronage is essentially the idea that slaves would escape slavery and do their own thing. But it’s a much more complicated issue. But in Haiti and in Jamaica marronage became a significant phenomenon, whereby slaves would escape and create their communities outside of the plantations and there was some compromise between the leaders of the maroons and the slave owners. So, it’s a complicated…

JP: And it enters into the language as a term of resisting?

RF: It’s kind of resisting by escaping, moving around the issues, you know, the government tells you to do something, you say yes, but you do the opposite.

DM: It’s associated with the former fugitivity. You see, unlike escape say for blacks escaping from slavery on various plantations on the US mainland, because when you escaped from slavery under those conditions, you are escaping that plantation, you were removing yourself from that environment, from that land. But maroons are living in contiguous physical relationship to the country. Just separate and apart. In a different social universe.

RF: Yes, in a different community. And there were tensions at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution between maroons and slaves because they were not necessarily on the same side. They have different interests and then you have the conflict also between the slaves who had just arrived, which were called in Haiti, boussole.  And the slaves who had been in Haiti for a long time who were born in Haiti. The significant number of the slaves who were born in Haiti were the leaders of you see of the revolution and that created a stratification between the local indigenous, if you wish, population and those who have just arrived. And the term boussole in Creole means that you’re kind of inferior. So, that remains as something, you know, that you’re not quite educated etc., etc. So, but there was a tension and then you have obviously in Haiti you at the racial tension between the mulattoes and the blacks and that was a real, I mean, there were civil wars between the different camps here.

Suppressing the Spread of Revolutionary Ideals

DM: So if you were, Robert, to talk to any general community of readers and generally educated people about Jefferson’s relationship to Haiti, what would it be? What would be the philosophical takeaways? What would be the political takeaways when we think about Jefferson and Haiti? 

RF: Well, he clearly, his sympathies were not with the slaves and with the slaves who had revolted. Once they revolted on the same geopolitical and economic interest, you could reach a compromise which they, which he did. In spite of his racist convictions. But once Haiti became independent, that was a different matter because one of the things that Jefferson was really concerned about was the spread of the ideas of the Haitian Revolution and this is a very important phenomenon. I mean this is, you can sense it, you read it, it’s there. There is a very famous Haitian anthropologist by the name of [Michel] Rolph Trouillot who said that Haiti was not thinkable. That is wrong. That is simply wrong. Haiti was so thinkable. That’s why they were so terrified about Haiti. And even before the Revolution, the French were thinking about the possibility of a slave revolution. During, obviously, it was there and when you read this stuff that they write about Haiti, it’s not that it was not thinkable, it was too thinkable. They were terrified and once Haiti becomes independent, then you want, you don’t want to talk about it. So, if you wanted silence. But it’s the silence [30:00] that exists because you are so terrified about the existence of the very phenomenon that you are denying. 

DM: And clearly when you read other aspects of Jefferson’s writings, I mean that is a completely imaginable claim in proposition because he is saying pretty much if there is the emancipation of slaves in the US, then these people who were formerly enslaved must be sent off shore. You need to get these people out of here. And you need to get them out of here because the tensions that have arisen and been allowed to flourish for generations will create, he talks about these “boisterous passions,” so he has even imagined this himself.

RF: But there’s a debate about the so-called the Toussaint Clause. This is about Toussaint L’Ouverture and that’s under Adams and it’s called the Toussaint Clause because it was to impose an economic embargo on France except essentially on Haiti which was in the hands Toussaint at that point. And the debate is very clear. I mean even people who are abolitionists, they are terrified of Haiti. I mean I just read some of the debate, there is a fellow Albert Gallatin who was Swiss-born statesman from the United States who was a Congressman and a statesman and abolitionist and he goes on and on about Haiti and how terrifying it would be if they got their independence because they would spread disease elsewhere and he’s an abolitionist. So, this is very present in their mind, but there is the geopolitical interests of the United States. They want the French armies to be weakened. And when Napoleon comes to power it’s even more of a problem than the Haiti problem or the black slavery revolution because they see Napoleon as using Haiti, crushing the revolution in Haiti, and going to Louisiana and controlling the western part of what is now the United States. And one of the ironies of the whole thing is that it’s precisely because Napoleon’s armies were defeated in Haiti that Napoleon came to the negotiating table with Jefferson for the Louisiana Purchase. So, in a weird way, the irony that black slaves revolting, defeating Napoleon allow the negotiations and allow Jefferson to accomplish what some people think is one of the biggest things of his presidency, the expansion of the United States, doubling essentially the territory of the United States. That to a large degree, not all of it, but to a large degree is a consequence of Napoleon’s defeat in Haiti. Because Napoleon sent 50,000 people and he thought “We’re just going to stop there. We crushed the, you know, the slaves then we send them to the western parts.” Louisiana, exactly. That was, Jefferson knows that. Not only Jefferson but all of the statesmen in the United States. And this is why they are plotting so that you can weaken the French while you say at the same time, “We are going to starve Toussaint, we’re going to starve…” what they were doing, they were very duplicitous.

JP: So, at that time, the US was plotting to….

RF: Covertly, not the government, but merchants, bankers, it was kind of piratry. They were sending weapons, they were sending, exchanging goods, they didn’t want the French to win. It would it would be a problem for them. They were terrified of Napoleon’s imperialism in what is now the United States, the western part of the United States.

DM: Well you see this is what I meant a few minutes ago. When I asked, you know, whether Jefferson is ultimately expedient where these calculations I mean we know these calculations are entirely for his own benefit. And the benefit of…

RF:  Yeah, there’s a very complex game there. But but on the other hand, I think, you know, if he was not worried above all about the model of Haiti after independence, he could have had a much more relaxed policy. Not to say even recognized but tolerated. Now, he doesn’t want, he wants an embargo. And that’s immediately after in spite of the Haitians begging ultimately, it’s not begging but saying we are not going to send anything on Jamaica or the other islands, don’t worry about it. This is just Haiti. Let’s talk. Let’s re-establish good… No, he doesn’t answer that. [35:00] And Haiti recognized the idea only in 1862, I think.

Reverberations of Haiti and the United States' History

DM: So, in what ways are we really dealing with the reverberations of that history?

RF: Well, I think the relation between the United States and Haiti is still very much part of that past. The existing relations, not only that but then United States occupies Haiti too, you know, from 1915 to 1934. And then you know it occupies Haiti again, you know, on a shorter basis but in the ‘90s and in 2004, which is the bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution. Then the UN replaces them. So, you have a story that has a certain amount of continuity because clearly the occupation from the nineteen teens to 1934 is full of racism. I mean, the language is absolutely horrible. I mean the way they look at Haitians. And it’s part of that past that Haitians are savages essentially they can’t run their show. We are going to run it for them and we are going to do it whether they like it or not. And if we have to occupy the country we’ll do so and they did. And if we have to suppress the areas we will and they did. So, that is the story. And even in 2004 you have those kind of that legacy of looking at Haitians as weird, maybe not quite savages but almost savages, practicing voodoo and being incomprehensible and we don’t know how to deal with them, but we should impose something on them. I mean there were reports in 2004 about some Christian leaders in the United States saying that the problem of Haiti was voodoo and that they are savages. That’s basically what they said and we can’t deal with them until voodoo has disappeared. Voodoo is part of the Haitian culture, you’re not going to do anything but really nurture it if you attack it. So, you have that then the vision of Haitians are different. Trump! I mean recently. What does he say? 

DM: Haiti is a shithole country. 

RF: Yeah. So, it’s no longer the cannibals but they are the shithole country. So. It’s very much part of that that history and Haitians on the other hand, they have love and hate for the United States because Haitians want to come to the United States because the situation in Haiti is so bad, but on the other hand, they resent the United States because the United States is you know, the big power that tells them what to do. And comes in whenever they feel like it, tell them who should be their president, etc. etc. So, you have that tension that has not disappeared but we have probably two million Haitians in the United States, Haitian Americans. And without them the country would fall apart because the remittances are actually much more significant in terms of quantity, amount of money than foreign assistance. So, without them, Haiti would be in deep deep trouble. So, and also, the United States has a way of solving some of the political problems in Haiti because Haitians exit. Former president [René] Préval in 2010 said very bluntly in Creole: “sais nager pour une sortie”, if you want to survive. And that means essentially you have to swim which means you have to cross the sea and go to the United States if you want to survive. So, there’s an acknowledgement of that dependence and that economic necessity of exiting the country. 

DM: Exiting the country to keep the country alive. 

RF: Yeah, going to the United States because that’s where the money is. Or go to Canada. So, you have that… but the whole story really starts with the Haitian Revolution and that the tension exists but on the other hand you have many even whites in the United States at the time of the Revolution who admired Toussaint and who admired what slaves could do and it was proof in their view that slavery in the United States should be abolished which also means that it was a great danger to people like Jefferson. Because if whites could, and this is one of the things, Jefferson was not [40:00] just like all the whites. That’s not true. You know, your abolitionists, there were people even when they had slaves, when they died they freed them. Jefferson never did that. And Jefferson would, I just read something about Jefferson saying when he was young that it was for the elder statesmen to decide the issue of slavery. When he becomes a statesmen he said it’s a new generation that should deal with slavery. So, there’s equivocation at all times. It’s complex. Ultimately I think he knew that it was wrong, but he could not…

DM: He couldn’t disentangle himself from it. And he couldn’t disentangle himself from it for a variety of reasons including those deeply personal. I mean, there’s a good bit of self-interest here in the fact slaves were sold to take care of his debts. 

RF: Yep absolutely. I mean slaves were capital. And it was a huge amount in the American economy. So, the idea that slavery was just racism is also wrong. There’s a lot of economic interest behind slavery. Slavery was capital.

DM: Yeah, and it’s so it actually that history is now or historiography is coming to not so much settle in this place but to basically in the last eight to ten years in particular to focus on capitalism and slavery. It’s not that it had not been a topic broached before because it had but in recent years with Sven Beckert’s and a whole range of other recent books talking about slavery and capitalism. It’s just an unavoidable conversation.

Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Birth of Liberalism

RF: The two arms join at birth. And liberalism is also born with slavery because you know in a fundamental way liberalism was very exclusionary. The idea of liberalism embrace, that’s nonsense. Liberalism was really part of this history of slavery too.

DM: And it remains. 

RF: Yes, and the people from the Enlightenment which supposedly were so visionary, they couldn’t deal with slavery. Either they were silent on it or they would be very much like Jefferson; equivocate. I mean [John] Locke was against slavery, but he was a member of the I think one of the major trading companies in slavery. [G.W.F.] Hegel, you know he can’t deal with slavery either. Slavery is bad, but we have to keep it. The Africans are not inferior but yes, they are inferior. There is a complete confusion whether it’s intentional, whether it’s related to economic interest, but it’s there that the Enlightenment has a deep problem when it addresses slavery. It doesn’t resolve it. It pushes it, postponed the day of reckoning, a lot of gymnastics around the problem and many of the great philosophers are fundamentally racist.

DM: That is among the most indisputable points that could be raised and even people I mean in the course of this conversation, we’ve been talking about abolitionism and who is an abolitionist and where abolitionists come down, really. It’s clear where they come down on slavery but where they come down on slavery is logically inconsistent with where they come down on race. Where they come down on slavery is it’s a moral wrong. We need to get rid of it. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society is among the most prominent of anti-slavery societies and why should we get rid of it? All kinds of apparatus, all kinds of arguments about slavery is a moral wrong, it completely disrespects the fundamental unit of humanity that being the family, separating mothers from their children, fathers from their children, fathers i.e. slaveholders selling their children for their own gains that all of this is morally reprehensible. But that did not lead them to the next logical step that these people who are being held captive are like us, they are humans just like us. Abolitionists didn’t believe that for a moment. [45:00] No, we can get rid of slavery, but people whom we have held captive are not like us, they are not equal to us, and we are not compelled to think of them as being equal to us.

JP: Which is why I think it’s truncation example that if you give is very instructive in the sense of abolitionists actually being advocates for censuring and sort of closing off trade with Haiti for that exact reason. So, what are a few… 

RF: They are essentially afraid of the consequences of their beliefs because they can’t go to the logical conclusion. And I think it’s deeply related to the kind of visceral racism that existed and economic interests. The two are deeply connected. One reinforces the other. Because if you’re going to put people into slavery, you need to dehumanize them to such an extent that you come to be convinced that they are inferior, that they are not quite human beings. So, then you can put them in the position where you can exploit their labor and you feel, you don’t feel bad about it. And clearly many of those people didn’t feel bad about it because the punishments that were given to slaves were absolutely horrific. I mean, it’s mind-boggling to think about what went on during slavery. As examples, cutting hands, cutting legs, you know, there are even stories of putting people in holes and putting honey on their heads and letting them be eaten by ants. And there were even worse stories about where you put dynamite in a slave etc. So, it’s a horrible story and the only way you can do that is I think by believing that they are not full human beings that they’re actually not human beings. And anyone who defied that stereotype became a problem and how do you deal with people? How do you deal with someone like Toussaint? Clearly a genius, and it’s a complicated thing, but then there were some Jacobins who were prepared to deal as equal and this is one of the reasons that Toussaint abandons the Spanish because [Léger-Félicité] Sonthonax is more than an abolitionist. He’s convinced that there is ultimately maybe equality between the two but how do you generate the end of slavery? It’s a complicated economic interest, you know, you have to deal with franchise. So, it’s problematic but not all abolitionists are the same either.

JP: In thinking about the Haitian Revolution as a critique and counter to some American ideals about freedom or independence, but I wonder if you can talk more about to what extent against challenge about the added component of, you know, the equation of slavery and race in a predominantly black country. I wonder if you could speak more about kind of competing dynamics between American freedom and this revolutionary ideals and what was going on in Haiti at the time as a potential critique or alternative to America?

RF: Yeah, well the Haitian Revolution probably is the logical conclusion of a conjuncture of events. First, you have the French Revolution which opens in Saint Domingue the possibility of thinking about abolishing slavery. But you can’t think about abolishing slavery if you don’t have slaves in the process of revolting. And that is quite important because I don’t think you needed to tell the slaves that there was the French Revolution and that slavery had to be abolished. I think they knew that. But the French opens up, you know, a window because there is a moment where the French say that slavery should be abandoned and there’s a proclamation in 1794 that is the end of slavery. So, it becomes legitimate and the Haitians seize it. The slaves seize that opportunity to violently overthrow slavery. But it’s not a gift of friends of 1789. It’s something that had to be conquered by the slaves themselves, but on the other hand, there’s a conjuncture that allows for that movement to crystallize because if it had not happened, if 1789 that not happened, the rebellion initiative would have been completely crushed. And its because the French gave that opening that the slaves could seize it and by the time they want to reestablish slavery under Napoleon, it’s too late. The slaves are not going [50:00] to put up with it. So, in some ways the French Revolution is the ultimate bourgeois liberal revolution. The American Revolution is the… really the first bourgeois conquest of creation of a nation out of imperialism, the British imperialism. But it’s not a radical break in terms of establishing equality. That revolution is not about really equality, it’s about property. And property means also slavery. The French Revolution is a little bit more radical. And the Haitian Revolution is more radical in the sense that race is part… that race should not be part of exclusions. So, you have… but all of those revolutions have their limits. I mean the Haitian Revolution led to old forms of authoritarian leadership. You know Haitians like the Americans they like to think, “Well, we created that republic where everyone was equal.” That is nonsensical. It’s really a myth. There is no equality in Haiti, there’s no equality in the United States, and clearly there is no equality in France either. It’s really the kind of stuff that you invent in some ways to build a nation. You create something that becomes a very powerful myth. But it is not reality, but it doesn’t matter that it’s not reality because even the people who are within that community believe in the myth, even if they are not equal, but they believe in it. I mean, I’m always puzzled when I said… How can you say that, you know, you had equality? Five percent of the people who voted and then you had slavery, women were excluded, a lot of white men were excluded, the vast majority of the population was excluded from power. How can you talk about democracy? Makes no sense. Same thing in France, Napoleon is restored and it’s over. In Haiti, you have that revolution but the former slaves, they are forced into course labor. They have to escape again that thing. And the leaders are messianic authoritarian figures. There is no equality there. But those are very powerful things that I think people transmit from one generation to the other in terms of educational systems, etc, etc. And then you come to believe in it. And if you say no then people look at you as if you must be crazy. But the reality is that those myths are just that. They are myths. Important to create a nation but nonetheless the idea that those revolutions generated what you learn in the books is nonsensical.

Mythologizing Jefferson

JP: Yeah. I wonder… It’s suggested that its not all about Jefferson in really important ways which I think is important for our project to think about his cross cultural contexts and his broader implications but I think bringing it, slightly if I may, back to Jefferson briefly I wonder if you could reflect maybe personally about this particular history and maybe thinking of places to enter into that?

RF: Well, it’s, I have an anecdote actually. I arrived here in 1981 and I went to a lecture on Jefferson and there was, I forget his name, he was at the time the biographer of Jefferson. What’s his name? 

DM: Dumas Malone? 

RF: Exactly, and I’m listening to him and I’m just an assistant professor, but he was saying all kinds of things that wouldn’t even add up, some of them true. But then someone asked him the question would Jefferson have a relation with a slave? He said, “No, because he was a man of honor.” So, I was so puzzled. I wasn’t even angry because to me that made no sense. I mean coming from Haiti, I’m a descendent of precisely that very kind of union between you know, slave owners and slaves. So, how can you say that? I literally said, “How can you say that that didn’t happen?” Slaves were objects. So, if the master wanted that object for his sexual satisfaction, that was that! It was not a moral question even for…because it was an object. And he looked at me really like this man is crazy. And he didn’t answer it. They said well Jefferson was an honorable man [55:00] so that told me that it was a very bizarre story and then eventually we realized that through scientific things obviously… what was obvious to me started to become obvious to many people. 

JP: But that also tells you something about the States. So, was that your first experience in the States or just as an assistant professor?

RF: No, in that setting about Jefferson and…because I never really thought about the matter because coming from Haiti, we knew that slaves had relations, sexual relations with the slave owners. I mean, this was taken, it was not even an object of discussion. It was part of the reality of slavery. So, to tell me that didn’t happen made no sense. I could not, and I think it’s part of the mythical vision that people came to accept, even people who studied and they denied it. Even when you see it black and white, you’re going to deny it. And for a long time they denied it and even people with the DNA, some people still deny it.

DM: Oh you know, I was at… it wasn’t Monticello but the building down the hill. I’m not going to remember the exact name of that building but it’s where a lot of the educational programming comes out of pertaining to Monticello. And so it was at that that place where the avuncular Dr. [Eugene] Foster first revealed what were ultimately modest conclusions in the scientific sense and I sat in the room. It was a Sunday afternoon. Maybe I’d say 40-50 people were there, half of them journalists and the…Dr. Foster said if the man alleged to be Jefferson’s father was his father, then science can verify that Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’ children. So, it’s a very modest proposition. He is letting the scientific data, he’s letting the DNA lead him where he needs to go. He isn’t even claiming that he’s the father of all the children. I found it utterly fascinating that there were people in that room who were really prepared to suggest, “Well, maybe the man who was said to be Jefferson’s father wasn’t his father. Maybe Jefferson’s mother was over here cavorting and carrying on.” That it was so utterly unthinkable that the honorable Thomas Jefferson could have fathered children with a slave woman despite what, as you say, despite what we know this is completely ordinary in the period in which Jefferson lived. But people were better prepared to suggest or to speculate that perhaps Jefferson’s father was not his father in order to deny that he could have fathered children with Sally Hemings and the whole question of honor, and the whole question of basically when you talk about the mythologization of democracy, the mythologization of Jefferson is as this person who because he is associated with the Enlightenment, because he is associated with the egalitarianism, because he is associated with the idea of independence and democracy, that everything else that follows from that, including in his personal life, is logically consistent with all of that and it is not. It is absolutely not. And that is ideological. That has to do, because if you can imagine that Thomas Jefferson not only had sexual relations with Sally Hemings, that is not hard to imagine, because Jefferson was a slaveholder and she was his property. So, if you have trouble imagining that though let’s say Jefferson may have had sexual relationships with her, but he could not have been emotionally connected to her, then you can reinforce this age old fiction or reinforce this age old idea that these people who were being held captive are less than human because if they are less than human than they are outside the domain of all those things that make us human, including the capacity to love. And so this is the thing that is so unimaginable [1:00:00] that Jefferson could actually love a person who was his property because if Jefferson could love a person who was his property, then Jefferson could regard her as something other than a sexual object, that she could be something else for him and it is that something else that people find unimaginable and they find it unimaginable whether they are die hard Jeffersonians or whether they are die hard supporters of Sally Hemings. It’s something on both sides of this ideological divide that makes it unthinkable, alright? Unimaginable that anything could have obtained between a slaveholder and his property. Anything that could have could have obtained that would even get us close to thinking about an emotional connection that it could only be physical even if we imagine that he did this thing, physical, as an honorable man. Well if he could do that, that’s all he was doing. That is all he was doing. He could not have cared for her. It was Garry Wills in the great debate after the DNA findings who said well, okay. So, let’s imagine that Jefferson did sleep with her. Let us imagine that he had sex with her with some frequency, but he could not love her. He did not love her. I think, so, how do you know that Garry Wills? We don’t know what obtained between these two people that much of what people say about that relationship is highly speculative.

RF: No, we can’t know.

DM: We really simply don’t know and so if we consider that we can’t know, then why are people so invested in reproducing a narrative that says there could not have been anything that obtained between these two people that would lead us to the conclusion that to him, she was human and to her, he was human even though he was her slave owner. So, these complications about emotional connections I find so so deeply fascinating that no side can imagine that we can talk about, which may kind of bring our… return us to the initial… the launch of the conversation, that this contemporary exhibition wants to invoke the terminology of rape, right? Because it wants to invoke the terminology of rape as some means of vindicating Sally Hemings. That Sally Hemings was simply an object, Sally Hemings was simply a victim, that it is a refusal that Sally Hemings could have been engaged in that which many women were engaged in in the institution of slavery. If we only want to talk about it as being expedient, if I have a relationship of whatever kind with the person who owns me, then I may have some leverage here. 

Negotiating Agency within an Imbalanced System

RF: Yeah, there is agency. 

DM: Yeah, there is leverage, there is agency, and we clearly have precedents for this. The same people who teach say for example, The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, where Harriet Jacobs whose genealogy and biography has been documented has been traced to South Carolina that when she is saying, “I consider it the better part of freedom and independence to be able to choose the person with whom I will enter into a sexual relationship.” So, rather than submit to the unwanted advances of the person who owns her, she does submit to another white man. Why does she submit to another white man? Because she says this is her choice. This is her choice. And I think Robert… Walter Johnson rather has given us all kinds of reasons to complicate the idea of the agency of enslaved people. But even given that, I think however tentative we have to be able to suggest that even under conditions of enslavement, there may not have been agency in the term that the law recognizes agency, right? But there is in the minds of some of these people, agency nonetheless. So, these are as you say very very complicated relationships very complicated entanglements and I don’t think we do ourselves any good to remain locked in these ideological positions [1:05:00] that make the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings so neat and bifurcated as owner to property, as slaveholder to slave, as dominator to victim, that there is a lot more nuance. 

RF: There are negotiations going on.

DM: There are negotiations… and we have to believe, when I talk to my students all the time, “Well, he had all the power.” I go, “in what relationship have you ever known, can you think of any relationship in which there are not power asymmetries?” I submit to you that if you are the parent of a newborn baby and at three o’clock in the morning that baby won’t stop screaming and you have to get up out of your bed and walk the floor with that baby, that baby has in these moments some power over you, your movements, your choices, your sleep. So, if we then suggest that power asymmetries in that relationship render it an impossibility, then we’re saying no relationships are possible even in the most loving relationships there are power asymmetries. And so I think that it again it is this investment in ideology, it is investment in particular positions about race, on all sides of the divide where as long as we can see Jefferson as ipso facto a person who dominated and raped Sally Hemings, then there is no other discussion we need to have, right? That he then allows us to condemn this god-awful institution. We can condemn this god-awful institution while at the same time we can leave open the possibility because again, I want to constantly say we don’t know what passed between these people. We simply don’t know. We don’t know. Everything is speculation. This is not truth. This cannot be verified. There is no archive at least not now. Nothing that we have extant to tell us what happened between these people. Nothing.

What's Love Got To Do With It?

RF: The difference though, it must have been a peculiar form of love if it did exist. Because slavery is not just relation of asymmetrical parts. It’s really an absolute relation of differences of power.

DM: Theoretically.

RF: So, the interesting question is if in spite of that, you can have love even if it’s complicated by the existence of slavery. Then that to some extent gives us a lot of hope because slavery is such an awful institution and that you could transcend it in very imperfect ways, but you could transcend it and you could stop loving someone, that indicates the artificiality to some extent of the institution itself because there is a bond of humanity that transcends the most awful institution. So, but, on the other hand that bond…slavery can also deform that. When you see people, the separation from their families, white master has a kid and you can’t stay on the plantation he has to be sent somewhere else, and sometimes sent anywhere and other times sent with some money and some protection wherever he goes. So, so, it’s a complicated thing but it’s like any love story. 

DM: Like any love story, it’s complicated. That is absolutely the case. And yes, slavery deformed all relationships. By definition it deformed them. So, to me, I’m pretty pretty clear on this. I am also not inclined necessarily to want to talk about say even a love relationship in the terms that we think about love today because love is something that lives in history. Our ideas about love live in history. Romantic love is a recent construct. Romantic love is in the historical spectrum rather new and so I’m not talking about ideas of romantic love. I’m thinking of something that is just much more complex than simply this is the person who owns me and therefore my only emotional response to this person is hate, alright? My only response [1:10:00] to this person is rejection, right? And then that works conversely, alright? This is my property and thus my only relationship to this property is one of exploitation. This is just someone I can say, “Here. Come.” You know [William] Faulkner has this wonderful moment in Go Down Moses, I’ve written about it. In Go Down Moses, in the long novella in that collection called, The Bear, the central character, Ike McCaslin, is in the commissary going over his grandfather’s ledger’s because, this is one thing that I’ve always found so utterly fascinating about slaveholders, the meticulous records they kept. Spent this money for this. So, Ike McCaslin comes across his grandfather having indicated that he gave $1,000 to Eunice, his slave, on the birth of her child. And so Ike is sitting in the commissary with these ledger’s going, “Huh? Must have been love. Must have been some kind of love. Maybe something akin to love?”, I’m paraphrasing here, but I’m not paraphrasing when he gets to the point where he says “not just some afternoon spittoon, right?” that for my grandfather to have given this woman $1,000 upon the birth of her child, right? Something had to obtain between these two people that is far more complex than merely slave owner and slave and that he doesn’t know what it is so it’s, everything is in the realm of the interrogative in that scene in the book: must have been, could it have been, it’s all speculative. But he is speculating. Why else? Is the implication. Why else would he have given her $1,000?

JP: I mean with Jefferson, just a brief comment before maybe one final question, is that he was very attentive too to the power of love in family structures as a way of controlling labor. So, on the plantation he kept families together because it made them a more productive worker unit. And so again to presume that Jefferson is in some ways not able to think about love in a productive sense, what it would mean for workers, I think is an important detail that he’s obviously capable of seeing slaves loving one another in terms of family structures and so, you know, that relationship to Hemings adds a potential to be involved in that, in some way, as the sort of master, because you know he liked to say he was the father of Monticello or whatever. And so in many ways if he’s this great fatherly leader of this plantation that is ultimately a big family unit. That is some kind of love.

DM: That is such an important point, James. And especially the notion that Jefferson understood that to keep enslaved people together on the same plantation actually facilitated and enabled their work as laborers. Again, it’s a kind of deformed…it’s a recognition of love being manipulated for self-interested purposes. 

RF: Economic interest.

DM: Yeah, self-interest and economic interest, yeah. 

JP: But I wonder, we’ve been asking everyone – oh sorry.

RF: But the idea of the father is obviously something that is pervasive in the creation of all nations. And it’s not just love but it’s also punishment because the father does both. And in every country you have so far, they are all males and they are all father…the founding fathers. Not just the United States. It’s everywhere. You have a founding father and it’s both to inspire love but it’s to inspire fear because the father can punish and he has the authority to punish. So, it is a combination of fear, love, loyalty, the family unit, but obviously the father at the head of the family unit so he can control the family unit. So, it’s a metaphor that is extremely powerful, not just on the plantation, but for the nation itself. And in the United States, the founding fathers: Jefferson, [George] Washington, all of them [1:15:00]

DM: [James] Madison.

RF: You know, they are both power, love, loyalty and also hierarchy. So, it’s a complicated metaphor. 

DM: Absolutely. And I think that’s a really useful way to think and from which to extrapolate an understanding of relationships in general. That we tend to want to think of the father figure, think of the patriarch, and even for that matter, the mother in some one-dimensional way in that these are largely sentimental characterizations, right? But you’re absolutely right it is impossible to talk about a father, particularly a founding father, without talking about a person who inspires perhaps more fear than love. 

Engaging Critically with Jefferson

JP: So, we’ve been briefly asking everyone that we’re speaking with if they teach Jefferson and how they might use Jefferson in the classroom?

RF: I don’t really teach Jefferson. On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot about Jefferson simply because I’m at the University of Virginia. You cannot escape Jefferson.

DM: Not even if you wanted to. 

RF: Yeah, but Jefferson is fascinating because we’ve been talking about him critically, but he’s also, in a fundamental way, a genius. I mean the vision that he has is a compelling vision. Now what he does with it is a different matter, but the Declaration of Independence is an extraordinary document and it’s something that anyone reading it should really say, “My goodness, those people were really onto something fundamental.” A historical rupture with a certain past. So, that is quite important. But where I’m critical is that you read the document and then you take the document as if it didn’t exist with the contradictions of the time. It’s as if you abstract it. You know, it’s a beautiful vision, it’s a beautiful commitment, but it’s one that even in its own terms has yet to be accomplished after more than 200 years. But it’s an important document. No one can deny that the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States is a massive event and a progressive event in spite of all the deformities of the event. It’s the same thing with the French Revolution of 1789, same thing with the Haitian Revolution. They are really fundamental historical moments but once you say that, you need to look at them critically because they have not fulfilled the promises that they contain. And this is where they have to be taken to task. Not to idealize what has been created because it’s not yet there. It gives you a guide on how you may want to continue but the historical rupture… It would be too easy to say, “Well, that’s it.” We need to engage those texts, those father figures, if you wish, critically without necessarily saying that they were all evil or they were all self-interested, they are complicated people like any other human being. You look at Toussaint, you know, you look at Jefferson, you look at Washington, you look at Hamilton, you look at Robespierre. I mean those were real historical figures. And clearly there were deformities in the project. The vision may have been compelling but the vision has yet to materialize and this is one of the things that we need to really study, I think, as intellectuals to look at the contradictions of those important figures and those important moments in history.

DM: The contradictions and our investments in really wanting to preserve…because that I doubt that there are very few people even at the university who would not freely acknowledge that Jefferson is fraught with contradictions. He is fraught with contradictions as a person, there are deep and explicit contradictions in his work and yet at the same time we keep returning as it were to the… I’m not getting the term I want. We keep returning to the idea as if you know, you know [Sigmund] Freud talked about the repetition compulsion. And in part of what [1:20:00 ] is underneath the repetition compulsion is you want to keep replaying something, often in relationships, that has not worked because you think okay I’ll try it this way this time and this time I’ll get it right. It’s in part, of course this is a bastardization of a complex theory, but that is it fundamentally the idea of the repetition compulsion. So, I find it interesting that last year the BOV [Board of Visitors] allocated literally millions of dollars to the university, to the College, in particular, for something called the Democracy Project. That’s a lucrative phenomenon for departments and scholars. One department received 2.3 million dollars to do what? I don’t know. But it’s all under the umbrella of the Democracy Project. So, we are still invested despite what we know to be the flaws, despite what we know to be the imperfections, what we know to be the deformities. It’s as if we will come at it and if we know, if we study, if we look at it from this angle, this angle, this angle, and this angle, perhaps we will get it right. And so I find it deeply ironic that at this moment in the university’s history, we have allocated all this money to study democracy. What are your thoughts about that?

The Pursuit of Democracy

RF: Well, I think it’s cyclical. I mean, you know, and it depends on the historical moment because in the ‘60’s you had the same thing with the Cold War. I think in the late ‘80’s, early 1990’s you had an explosion about democracy. It was going to flourish everywhere and anywhere. You just needed to send people who could write good liberal constitutions and the trick was done. Or you would need to send what I would call missionaries literally and their vision of democracy was fundamental in American democracy and export it and people should like it, love it because there is nothing better than that. And that’s part also of the American myth. The problem is that American democracy is very unique. It’s a very incomplete form of democracy and the fundamental problem for those we see on the receiving end is that they don’t quite see it the same way because they see it as an imposition and in many ways as full of hypocrisy. That this is in the interest of the United States, we’re going to give you a democracy, but if it doesn’t work, if we like someone, that person is going to be the democrat. People who are opposed to the person we support is automatically anti-democratic and you can see that in what happened in Russia after the Cold War. Initially, it was [Boris] Yeltsin who was going to be the greatest democrat which was a joke. Then when [Vladimir] Putin came into power he was supposed to be that great young man and [George] Bush saying, “I’ve looked at him in his eyes, and he’s a great guy” and now he’s evil, everything he does is evil and the world is much more complicated than that. You can’t impose on a big country like Russia American democracy. That is not going to work. You can’t do that even in small countries like Haiti. It’s not going to work because there are too many contradictions. If you don’t like the result of democracy, then it becomes anti-democratic. If someone is elected, who has the different vision than that espoused by the United States, it can’t be a democracy. It’s a real problem because it’s a very narrow definition of what is democratic. And the election doesn’t make a democracy. 

DM: No, no. 

RF: And there are so many other issues related to the kind of democracy even in the United States about the level of inequalities, who votes, who has the capacity to actually be a candidate, and who controls the candidates, the amount of money that is spent on any election in the United States now is really so incredibly high that it’s difficult to see that as an exercise in real democracy. If you have money, you can probably be elected. You get the money, you get the ads, you control the message etc. So, it’s a very interesting thing that we are talking about democracy. I think it comes [1:25:00] because in Europe there is a crisis. I think there is a crisis also in the United States. And that leads to some sort of questioning about whether democracy is sustainable, whatever that means, because it’s not clear what we mean by democracy either but the idea that elections and whomever is elected is legitimate, those things have come under fire now. And we are trying to recover some sort of commitment to democracy because it seems that the population has lost it. And Jefferson talked about democracy so what better thing to do at University of Virginia then go back to Jefferson and try to invent some new thing to have a notion of democracy? But I think it’s a project that is very complicated because it’s a project that is confined, to a large degree, to Americans and their view about democracy. There is no real exchange between different cultures, different parts of the world about what democracy means. When you have elections in many Latin American countries or African countries, even when they are more or less legitimate. We’re not talking about structures of power, structures of inequality, etc. We are talking about a figurehead who becomes president and who is very dependent on the West, and in many ways in the, on the United States and that’s what democracy is in election, but that doesn’t change relations of power. Those things have to be talked about, the question of economic privilege, economic inequality, and obviously the issues about ethnicity, race, gender that are part of an emancipatory kind of project and that is complicated and I don’t know if they’re going to get democracy by going back in history and looking again at the key Western philosophers and extracting from that something new which I don’t think you can get. Or if you’re going to try to have a much more comprehensive view of democracy by talking to so many different intellectual heritages. I mean whether it be in China, in Latin America, in Africa, wherever. We seem to think that democracy is something that only we have in the United States and we can teach it and that’s very problematic. 

DM: We can teach it and we can export it despite its own failings here in the United States. And one of the other things I find just really deliciously suggestive is that at the same time that we are mounting this huge overview or exploration of democracy and allowing people to compete for lucrative sums of money in order to pursue these explorations, we are at the same time investing in understanding slavery and understanding our slave past. So, as near as I can tell, these questions of inequality and race and ethnicity don’t seem to be front and center of this whole new Democracy Project. But race is taken up on the slavery side of things. So, we have these two pillars certainly central to the former administration of President [Teresa] Sullivan’s in bridging into the incoming administration with [James] Ryan. Ryan was not the architect of this Democracy Project. But supposedly, it is his administration that is going to be in large part helping to oversee or implement it. So, democracy, it well, it’s a new, a project very much in its infancy. 

The Rise of the Right Wing

RF: Yeah, it may also be I think it it’s also the product, inevitable product of what happened last August that the university was really in the middle of a very nasty historical moment in terms of race, in terms of neo-Nazis, in terms of the recognition that slavery was really a significant event in the creation of American democracy. So, those things came all together and Charlottesville became kind of the center of that maelstrom, if you wish, and I think that led the university to start thinking [1:30:00] about race again, start thinking about slavery, start thinking about democracy. When you have a bunch of neo-Nazis walking on the Lawn and, to some extent, claiming that the Lawn is theirs and that is connected to the heritage of this university, then that creates a problem for the university and the problem has to be dealt with in the beginning of the 21st century, which supposedly was no longer existing. I mean we’re supposed to be in a post-racial society and democracy inside of the United States had already been resolved. So, those problems come back with a vengeance and at the core of the University of Virginia which is Jefferson’s creation. So, issues of democracy, slavery, and race come back and the university has to deal with it. And I think this is why we have so much talk about slavery about talking about race, about healing, etc. because it’s the legacy.

DM: But you know, it’s interesting that in terms of the actual chronology, this project on democracy was underway before August 11th and 12th. It was actually underway beforehand. In fact, some of the first projects were funded in the late fall and early new year, which meant the project had been there and applications had been made in advance, but that does not alter the fact that August 11th forced a crisis about race into our eyes once again. I mean, much like, I don’t know why Freud is on my mind this evening, but you know much like the return of the repressed, because in a way we really have the idea that we’re in a post-racial society. That is something that people thought that they could achieve through verbal fiat. We just keep saying it and it will be so. It will be a reality that we create through the force of repetition. We’re in a post-racial society, we’re in a post-racial society. If we say it enough we’ll believe it. You know, I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m not afraid of the dark, we’re in a post-racial society, we’re in a post-racial society, and yet last summer, it was clear, made really abundantly and violently clear that not only are we not in a post-racial society that actually we have trained the very people who have given the lie or the very people who reinforce the point that we are not in a post-racial society. We trained them here.

RF: And you’re right about democracy because I think the issue of democracy came to the fore again after the 1990’s because the 1990’s were supposed to be the moment when history had ended. As [Francis] Fukuyama said, where liberal democracy was going, was going to be all over the map. And by the end of the 1990’s, it’s very clear that that’s not the case and by the mid 2000’s, even in Europe, you have really the growth of extreme right-wing groups. And you have now in Italy, in Austria, in Hungary, you have essentially neo-fascist governments who have been elected and I think this generates a crisis of democracy. And there is a fear that this is spreading all over. That liberalism, as it were, is under assault and that the dreams of the ‘90s entertained by many liberals… those dreams have ended. The Brexit is a phenomenon that most liberals can’t stomach and it is something that is interesting because I think it’s part of the problems of globalization. It’s part of the problem of the spread of neoliberalism which create, you know, a world market but the world market which is so unequal, whether it be in what used to be called the third world or the industrialized world, that people are really fed up with that system, but there is no alternative. The alternative that is provided are neo-fascist alternatives. And there is very little else and whenever you elect a government, it does essentially the same thing where it’s the right, the left so why not vote for the right, the extreme right? Maybe they’ll do something differently? And it’s the same thing [1:35:00] with Brexit. So, I think there are losers and I would venture to say the majority of people are losers in the process of globalization. But there is an elite which is very cosmopolitan which believes that it has transcended nationalism, race, class, which is really a myth because when you look at the inequalities that have been created, those things are very much part of the global structure, but there is that vision that, you know, we are cosmopolitan and that’s that. And we know that this is not the case because when you look at the crisis with immigration, cosmopolitanism ends at the frontiers.

DM: Or we should say at particular frontiers. It doesn’t end at all the frontiers. 

RF: Well, in Europe its ending at many frontiers. In the United States, its ending at the Southern frontier and at the same time it’s open to people who have degrees and money. Because you can buy, you literally can buy your visa into any of those countries if you’re a millionaire or if you are you’re educated and they need that particular type of educated individual. So, it’s a very exclusionary form of cosmopolitanism. 

DM: Absolutely. At the very time that Donald Trump is decrying birthright citizenship, Apparently people, women are coming in to give birth in his hotels and giving birth to US citizens. If you have money you have money you can do it. And his objection to immigration, as you say, seems to be an objection to immigration at the Southern border of the United States.

RF: People who are not educated and who are poor, he doesn’t want them.

DM: But his wives, he never had a wife who wasn’t an immigrant. His mother was an immigrant. So, yeah.

RF: Again the contradictions of… 

DM: Yeah, yeah. I mean that that just goes, It goes without saying. I suspect James, I don’t know, I think maybe we have exhausted. 

JP: We’re getting a little off topic.

DM: Yeah. Yeah, that’s alright.

Haiti is Very Thinkable

DM: And somewhere in there as a bridge or just another layer of the discussion, you know Haiti as unthinkable, but Haiti is very thinkable. Haiti is only unthinkable in some kind of wishful thinking.

RF: Yeah, it’s always there.

DM: It’s really always there. 

RF: You know, it’s like the slaves, you know, they are, that you build walls around them, the architecture of Monticello. They are hidden in order to see them but they’re always there and they’re essential. It’s not that they are unthinkable, they are too thinkable so you want to try to erase them. 

DM: Yeah, all too thinkable. All too thinkable. And I mean somehow we didn’t really elaborate, but maybe there will be a space if only just briefly in a future conversation to talk about the kind of discourse of disease in humanity. Independence as a disease. The idea of cannibals and pests because.

JP: And the idea of, Jefferson’s conversation about degeneracy.

DM: Yeah, exactly.

The U.S. Abolitionist Movement

JP: Or the abolitionist rhetoric of slaves being unable to understand morals and guides. The question of the humanity…

RF: Yeah, they are not quite. 

JP: Yeah, the question of their ability to fathom certain things.

DM: Yeah and you know In the U.S. abolitionist movement, which was really, had many many layers which included instructing children, you know, school manuals and all and so there would be like [1:45:00] these kind of primers with questions: What must the abolitionist do? Think for the slave. Because the slave obviously can’t think for themselves.

JP: Our conversations about schooling and sort of that Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison debate about literacy. Capacities of even slaves advocating for abolition as in some ways unable to claim equal footing and be on the same playing field as white abolitionists.

DM: No, they’re not because that is the reason as I’ve discussed with you lots of times to that is why Garrison and Douglass came to a parting of the ways because Douglass was too educated for Garrison and Douglass is this kind of rock star on the abolitionist circuit in Garrison wants to contain him. You know, “if you keep speaking like this who is going to ever believe that you were a slave, you need to restore some of the plantation to your speech.” So, when Garrison is telling him to restore some of the plantation to his speech, Garrison is actually in the same logic as Mrs. Auld who was the first person who attempted to teach Douglass to read and her husband came in to find her giving him instructions and he says to her, “you give a nigger an inch, he’ll take an ell.” I mean this interdiction of literacy, right? Because that’s what Garrison was engaged in. That you, what we need, what the abolitionist movement needs one thing from you Frederick Douglass and that is for you to mount the podium and at optimal moments remove your shirt, show the scars on your back, You are just a body. For the abolitionist movement, the abolition movement only needs you to tell a story it does not need you to theorize, it does not need you to think, it does not need you to analyze, and you know. And then when Jefferson fled the US and was the rock star in the British Isles, Garrison was completely apoplectic because again Douglass was not playing the role that the abolitionist movement had scripted for him. His role was, “I was worked in all weathers. I barely had enough food to eat.”

RF: Of your scars. 

DM: But to be actually be able to think about, theorize about, and analyze the institution of slavery, you know, in the domestic and world order, No, that’s not what we want you doing, and the real blow was when Douglass started his own newspaper. How dare you? 

RF: Well it’s the same thing in Haiti when the US occupied Haiti in the 1910’s and up to 1940, There is a very famous quote by the Secretary of State, think it was [William] Jennings [Bryan], he says, “Oh dear, niggers speaking French!”

DM: Yes! Right!

RF: That that is unthinkable. 

DM: You know, it’s like…

RF: That can’t be, I mean, they almost look civilized.

DB: You know and it’s like, you know, the Samuel Johnson because you know, you look at these things operating on, you know, the racial plane, the gender plane, you know, when Johnson is saying I mean the idea of a woman being a writer, I mean it’s easier to imagine a dancing dog. And you know, I have continued to maintain, people don’t understand why I feel insulted when people say, “Oh Deborah, you’re so articulate” and I go, you know, and people ask “Why are you insulted about that” and I go, “You know, I am, doggone, I am a university professor. I mean to say that I’m articulate is just like really unremarkable. If I am, if I cannot be articulate as a university professor, I should hand in my badge, I don’t find this a compliment at all, and I put it in the logic of you know, “Ah, a black person who can actually get out a simple declarative sentence without falling on her face.” Anyway, now, do you think this is something you’d be interested in doing hanging with us on, Robert?

RF: Yeah, that’s fine. Yeah, it’s interesting!