The Causes of The Haitian Revolution

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The Haitian Revolution began on August 22 of 1791, and it spawned across 13 years, as the revolution ended in 1804 just at a time when Haiti attained her independence.[1]  The Haitian revolution became successful against the colonial and the slavery injustices in the land, following the overwhelming insurrection by self-liberated slaves. The revolutionists fought against the brutal French rule in Haiti, then referred to as Saint Dominique.[2]

The revolution was multiracial, considering that the Spanish, the Mulattoes, the blacks, the British, and the French were part of the struggles.  The Haitian revolution was and remains to be one of the unique struggles because it led to the formation of an independent state, ruled by people of color, a people who were former captives but now free slaves after the revolution, hence it was an outstanding defeat for racist ideologies in the Atlantic part of the world.[3]

The revolution in Haiti became the platform upon which the capture and enslaved people around the globe, especially in the US, began to actively claim for their liberty. Indeed, people of color found a stage in the global theatrics of controversial racial politics; to be heard as a free people who deserved similar treatment to the former slave owners. The revolution served as an empirical experience to challenge the demeaning European belief that black people could not keep the memory for more than one generation and that people of color could not manage their independence as a free people.[4] To adequately discuss the Haitian Revolution, it is not only essential to outline the causes of the Revolution and the effects it amounted to; but also critical and in the best interest of this essay to discuss what made the Haitian Revolution more successful than prior revolutions.

The Causes of the Haitian Revolution

The contentious issues of social hierarchy, ill-treatment for the enslaved people, and the French revolution compromised the sociopolitical and economic stability in Saint Dominique, hence creating a vulnerable state for the onset of the 1791 Haitian revolution.  Saint Dominique, before later being renamed as the state of Haiti, was initially a pirate destination for the French smugglers who used to wreck the Spanish ships ashore of Haiti`s coastline. Soon, Haiti would gain more popularity because it became the most potential region for agriculture and farming in the West Indies. Plantations of cotton, indigo, and sugar cane as well and coffee became a common practice. The yields were profitable, considering that Haiti produced over 60 percent and 40 percent of the coffee and sugar yields in mainland Europe respectively.[5] Because the plantation needed intense labor at a time (in the 1780s) when the economy of Saint Dominique was on a rapid escalation, slaves arrived in Haiti in tens of thousands. Annually, approximately 30 thousands of slaves were bought some to increase the labor force on the farmers and others to replace the former slaves who had died of extreme working conditions, diseases or torture.[6] The increasing slave population was mainly from continental Africa, and the blacks made up to 90 percent of the people on the island. Although slaves had been forceful made Christina, immediately they were taken to farms they were excluded from the mainstream society. Hence they redefined their culture; speaking a dialect called creole and practicing Voodoo as a religion.[7] Finally, because of the universality in slave culture, plus the escalating deaths from torture and being overworked, slaves had no reason to persevere any longer but to revolt against the brutality of the white masters.

The second reason why the Haitian revolution was inevitable is that the back at home, the west indies owner, the French, was well informed about what nature of hardship, inhuman treatment, and extreme work environment the slaves were undergoing.  Moreover, the brutality and the torture that accompanied slavery had become known in mainstream society, and people had a feeling of putting an end to slavery in the region, as early as 1789.[8]

Both in Haiti and in Saint Domingo, the statutes that governed slaves, otherwise called the Code Noir, had been developed to restrain slave social peace in fear of them hurting the slave owners on farms. Therefore, the supportive atmospheres that created awareness about the increased unfair treatment of slaves gave them a platform to revolt, and claim their liberty in life and for generations to come. The uprisings began on a lower note, and the strategies used included slaves beating up the plantation owners, poisoning them, intensifying their Voodoo worship culture, and destroying the French property both on farms and in residential areas.[9]

The French government tried severally to quell the revolution, but it seemed impossible. Consequently, the perception of uneasiness on the part of the French masters accentuated the effort among slaves, who would then stop at nothing but a bloody revolution that served the blacks with freedom.

The other cause of the revolution was an imbalanced social hierarchy in the population of Haiti, which existed in four major categories. The first category was made of the slave owners, who mostly lived in mainland France and employed subordinates to watch over plantation and slaves in Saint Dominique. The second category was the whiles who manages slaves on the farms, the blacks who were free because they bought their freedom or had been awarded liberty by their masters, and the offsprings (Mulattoes) of enslaved women who had been fathered by the male French masters.[10] The third category was made of slaves who worked on farms and in residential places of their masters. The final and most fierce yet populous (lived in tens of thousands) group was made of the runaway slaves, otherwise called the Maroons, and they lived in mountainous places of Haiti.  At this point in history, the French government planned to increase more taxes on its population at home and in Haiti. Therefore, slave masters in Haiti resisted the efforts of the French government, the government further planned to make more restrictive laws for the slaves, and this was not well with the critics of slavery, who went as far to polarize the loyalty of the French military. The slaves in Haiti became resistant because they hear learned of the power struggle in mainland France. The Maroons in their hiding places joined the commotion on the plantations in their thousands. Consequently, the sociopolitical instability both in France and in Haiti created room for the mega Haitian revolution to occur.

Finally, the support by critics from abroad like in the US and other European countries, the French government found it suitable to let go the extreme treatment of slaver in Haiti, because slave owners were not remedying substantial tax back home after role. Therefore, African revolutionists were inspired because the atmosphere was naturally set for them to claim their rights, liberties, and freedom. The Sailor Foundation meant that slaves would be given citizenship, and such was a deliberate gesture on the part of the slave owners that freedom for the black people was approaching; which gave slaves the energy to fight slavery tirelessly.[11] Therefore, the forced labor with extreme living conditions, illogical social hierarchy, mistreatment of the lower class citizens in France, and the external pressure from critics created a suitable atmosphere for the Haitian revolution of 1791.

Effects of the Haitian Revolution

Saint Dominique then became Haiti and officially independent state with an autonomous government of the former slaves. However, because of the unstable social frameworks the French colonizer had created, it was hard to expressly enjoy the benefits of freedom for the black people in Haiti.[12]

Slave owners and black people began to have more obvious sexual relations, which led to the birth of interracial children, hence dissolving the extreme of racial discrimination indie of Haiti and beyond. Blacks became part of the mainstream French society. After the revolution, it became apparent that black people joined mainland France, and some were given the opportunity to attend school while others joined the French military.[13]  The Mulattoes, who had been birthed by slave mothers and French male masters, became an elite class that served to create a social bridge between the former slaves and the former masters of slavery. Consequently, at the end of the revolution, civilization was at the doorstep of black people, and all sociopolitical factors in mainland France were steadily assimilated by the Haitian people.

Africans in France began to own property, and the former slaves in Haiti started to own land as well as other forms of social wealth.[14]  The Maroons, who were runaway slaves, became part of the mainstream Haiti society, and the Voodoo religion was significantly abandoned because most Africans embarked on practicing Catholicism.  Haitians were assimilated into the French culture, and fundamental sociopolitical privileges were accessible to former slaves. Beyond France and Haiti, countries like the US began to feel the pressure from critics of slavery across the world. The Haitian revolution was evidence enough that Africans needed a room for self-determination. It had become clear that Africans can fight for their rights, and they equally needed accessibility to fundamental human rights like freedom, dignity, and functional societies. Therefore, the Haitian revolution was a history-changing event that would positively impact not only the slaves in Haiti but those under the suffering of supremacist culture in other parts of the world.

Factors which Made the Haitian Revolution more Successful than Prior Revolutions

The Haitian revolution was more successively than the prior forms of rebellion and uprisings because of multiple factors. One of the elements is that Haiti was the most talked about and criticized destination of slaves in the western hemisphere. Indeed, because of the extreme conditions slaves endured, and because of the thousands who die because of torture and being overworked, the attention of the world was alerted.[15] Furthermore, the slaves made up 90 percent of the population on the island, and hence they felt it was necessary to take advantage of their numbers and cause a historical revolution. Therefore, the degree of success and immense impact in the revulsion came in equal measure of the extreme slave environment black people were undergoing.

The many attempted revolutions in Haiti had failed because of logistical and political reasons. For instance, Haiti was strategically located, and most global powers traded farm produce and accessed the logistical seas ways through the land, and waterways of Haiti. The international pressure on controlling Saint Dominique, therefore, made it challenging to do successful revolution. However, because of the universal attention diverted to the region, the inhuman encounters for the slaves became known with ease to the world.

Therefore, exposure and great interest in Haiti made the 1791 revolution the most impactful, and hence the most successful of the time.[16]

The Haitian revolution sparked a total ban on slavery in the Caribbean and multiple neighborhoods.[17]

The Haitian revolution is rated as the most successful because it provided a formidable platform for civil rights movements since then to the present day. Oppressed people across the world found meaning in fighting for, championing, and protecting their rights in the hands of the oppressors.  Lack of social stability in the structure of the French people back at home and what was happening on the plantations in Haitian farms compromised the social order, hence creating room for the most successful and historical 1791 revolution. Therefore, the Haitian revolution was by no means small unrest; instead, it was a massive confrontation that marked the fall of an era of oppression and the beginning of another for liberty.


Byrne, James F. “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18.” Military History, 2018.

Fanning, Sara. “Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America by James Alexander Dun (Review). Journal of the Early Republic 38 (3). doi:10.1353/jer.2018.0058,” 2018.

Fischer, Sibylle. “The Haitian Revolution; A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture: 262-76. doi:10.1002/9780470696446.ch15,” 2015.

Hutton, Clinton. “The Haitian Revolution and the Articulation of a Modernist Epistemology.” Critical Arts, 2011. doi:10.1080/02560046.2011.639993.

[1] James F. Byrne, “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18,” Military History, 2018,, 1-78

[2] Ibid. 23

[3] Ibid. 14

[4] Sara Fanning, “Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America by James Alexander Dun (Review). Journal of the Early Republic 38 (3). doi:10.1353/jer.2018.0058,” 2018., 557-59

[5] Ibid. 559

[6] Byrne, “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18.” 53

[7] Sibylle Fischer, “The Haitian Revolution; A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture: 262-76. doi:10.1002/9780470696446.ch15,”2015., 272-76

[8] Ibid. 277

[9] Byrne, “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18.” 25

[10] Fischer, “The Haitian Revolution; A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture: 262-76. doi:10.1002/9780470696446.ch15.” 282

[11] Clinton Hutton, “The Haitian Revolution and the Articulation of a Modernist Epistemology,” Critical Arts, 2011, doi:10.1080/02560046.2011.639993., 529-554

[12] Fischer, “The Haitian Revolution; A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture: 262-76. doi:10.1002/9780470696446.ch15.” 311

[13] Fanning, “Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America by James Alexander Dun (Review). Journal of the Early Republic 38 (3). doi:10.1353/jer.2018.0058.”, 589

[14] Byrne, “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18.” 44

[15] Fischer, “The Haitian Revolution; A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture: 262-76. doi:10.1002/9780470696446.ch15.” 299

[16] Hutton, “The Haitian Revolution and the Articulation of a Modernist Epistemology.”, 548

[17] Byrne, “What We Learned From... The Haitian Revolution; Military History 34 (5): 18.” 19

November 13, 2023

History Sociology World

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