What makes a good leader? Political skill, toughness, honesty? President Lincoln showed all of these qualities and more, but it has been almost 150 years since he ended his term. Toussaint Louverture is definitely a name to remember when thinking about great leaders that had a big impact on their territories forever. Louverture worked as a young slave until the French Revolution occurred. He worked behind the scenes to encourage slaves to fight to fight for their freedom. By 1793, he commanded a rebel army against French forces on the island of Hispaniola. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in Saint Domingue (now called Haiti) in 1794 once the revolutionary government in France abolished all slavery in the French colonies. However, Napoleon Bonaparte had risen to power in France and was planning to reinstate, or bring back, slavery. Toussaint and Napoleon fought with their troops and Toussaint was captured and taken to France. While Toussaint was in jail, Napoleon pulled his suffering troops out of Saint Domingue and gave up the fight. Toussaint was dying of pneumonia in a French jail and never knew that Haiti became an independent nation on January 1st, 1804. The question is, how should we remember Toussaint Louverture? Toussaint Louverture should be remembered as a liberator of slaves, a military commander, and the ruler of Saint Domingue. His work as a liberator of slaves is most important because he was always fighting against reinstating slavery & had one of the most successful slave revolts in history.
First off, Toussaint Louverture should be most remembered as a liberator of slaves. To start off, he served as a doctor to troops and as a commander of a detachment of soldiers in the 1791 slave revolt (Doc A). This slave revolt started the Haitian Revolution, and it really proves how much Toussaint cared for the slaves. He later stopped his troops from their revolt against France, because Robespierre abolished slavery. Toussaint later defeats the British in 1798 and becomes ruler of Saint Domingue. He showed a lot of proof of caring for slaves and making sure slavery was not reinstated. In 1797 in his letter to the French Directory, Toussaint explains that “They bore their chains when they knew no condition of life better than that of slavery”(Doc B). He also even threatens the Directory, saying “we have known how to confront danger to our liberty, and we will know how to confront death to preserve it”(Doc B). This shows that him and his troops are willing to fight to the death if it means slavery will not return. The Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801 further proves Louverture is a very important liberator of slaves. It states in article 3 that “there cannot exist slaves in this territory, servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French”(Doc C). This article is very important, yet simple and to the point. It clearly states slavery will never exist in Saint Domingue. These are the many reasons we should remember Louverture as a liberator of slaves.
Another way to remember Toussaint Louverture in the future is as a military commander. As stated before, Toussaint served as a doctor to troops in 1791. He truly cared about their health and well-being. Also, Toussaint had a big impact and received mixed feedback on his work as a military commander. Hyacinthe Moyse, Toussaint’s adopted nephew, thought Toussaint was wrong to support plantation farming, so he decided to organize a rebellion. Moyse did not trust slave because of his “draconian [cruel] labor policy and gathering suspicion of his friendliness with the white planter class”(Doc E). On October 29th, 1801, the revolt broke out on the Northern Plain. Toussaint was so enraged that he ordered certain men to shoot themselves! He then ordered Moyse’s arrest and had him confined in the fort of Port de Paix (Doc E). These actions and decisions made it very clear Toussaint was a strong force and military leader, whether people liked him or not. Speaking of liking him or not, historian William Wells Brown wrote in his book that Toussaint had “superior knowledge of the character of his race, his humanity, generosity, and courage had gained the confidence of all whom he had under his command”(Doc F). Also, Toussaint made a good military decision when the French were coming to the port city of Samana to enslave people. Him and his generals burned down the cities that would have resources for the enemy, and fled to mountains so it became harder to fight. This was a good decision and deserves to be noted. Toussaint Louverture is a strong military commander and should be remembered as that, also.
Lastly, Toussaint Louverture should be remembered as the Ruler of Saint Domingue. Louverture was an exceptional leader, yet not everybody was in love with him and his ways of ruling. In Article 28 of the Saint Domingue Constitution, it states that “he is entrusted the direction thereof for the remainder of his glorious life”(Doc C). This proves that he was something special, if they stated that he would be Governor of Saint Domingue for life. There are advantages and disadvantages of this happening. The ruling could develop into a dictatorship, and people would have no say. An advantage is that the people trust him. The citizens had known Toussaint for a while at that point, so they knew they could trust him to start up Saint Domingue. They needed a strong leader to start out. Louverture really looked out for the people. There is also evidence of Toussaint being a strict ruler. It was stated in his proclamation that “any individual...tending to incite sedition [actions against the authority of the nation] shall be brought before a court martial”(Doc D). Another consequence he made for breaking the rules was “any manager or driver of a plantation upon which a foreign cultivator [field worker from another plantation] shall have taken refuge shall denounce him to the captain or commander of the section within 24 hours under penalty of one week in prison”(Doc D). This is saying that if a plantation manager did not report a runaway worker in 24 hours, they would get arrested. It is clear that Toussaint had strict rules, but at least he was trusted by his people, which is why remembering him as a leader of Saint Domingue is very important.
Although Toussaint Louverture accomplished a lot in his career, he should be most remembered as a liberator of slaves. Louverture was a great leader and military commander, but put the most time and effort into making sure nobody would get enslaved again. He made sure to tell the Directory that him and his troops would fight to the death if it meant slavery would not be reinstated. He did a lot to prove him and his work should be respected, and that is why we should remember Toussaint Louverture as a liberator of slaves.
Document A: Created from various sources.
Document B: Toussaint Louverture “Letter to the French Directory, November 1797.”
Document C: The Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801. Signed by Toussaint Louverture in July 1801.
Document D: Toussaint Louverture, “Proclamation, 25 November 1801.”
Document E: Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint Louverture: A Biography, 2007.
Document F: William Wells Brown, “A Description of Toussaint Louverture,” from The Black Man, His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, 2nd edition, 1863. Engraving of Toussaint Louverture, 1802.