Toussaint’s Clause

The prolific Professor Corbett has posted a review of Gordon Brown’s Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution.

The book looks at the influence of Haiti on early American foreign policy. From Amazon’s book description:

In its formative years, America, birthplace of a revolution, wrestled with a volatile dilemma. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and many other founding fathers clashed. What was to be the new republic’s strategy toward a revolution roiling just off its shores?

From 1790-1810, the disagreement reverberated far beyond Caribbean waters and American coastal ports. War between France and Britain, the great powers of the time, raged on the seas and in Europe. America watched aghast as its wealthy trading partner Haiti, a rich hothouse of sugar plantations and French colonial profit, exploded in a rebellion led by former slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

“Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution” narrates the intricate history of one of America’s early foreign policy balancing acts and one of the nation’s defining moments. The supporters of Toussaint’s rebellion against France at first engineered a bold policy of intervention in favor of the rebels. But Southern slaveholders, such as Jefferson, eyed the slave-general’s rise and masterful leadership skills with extreme alarm and eventually obtained a reversal of the policy — even while taking advantage of the rebellion to make the fateful Louisiana purchase.

Far from petty, the internal squabbles among America’s founders resolved themselves in delicate maneuvers in foreign capitols and on the island. The stakes were mortally high — a misstep could have plunged the new, weak and neutral republic into the great powers’ global war. In “Toussaint’s Clause”, former diplomat and ambassador Gordon S. Brown details the founding fathers’ crisis over Haiti and their rancorous struggle, which very often cut to the core of what America meant by revolution and liberty.

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and Haitian History

Our hearts go out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. For those who care to donate, I have added a link to the American Red Cross at the top right of this blog. For those missing loved ones or looking for further information about the aftermath of the storm, Rex Hammock’s Weblog has a list of survivor/missing databases, and a wiki, ThinkNOLA has been set up as a clearinghouse of information and resources.

There are also several blogs and other online sources who are providing information. Nola.com has been an excellent resource. Also check out Metroblogging New Orleans, Kaye’s Hurricane Katrina Blog, the Hurricane Katrina page at Wikipedia, Eye of the Storm, Storm Digest, and the links here and here.

While much of the Gulf Coast has been affected by Katrina, New Orleans in particular has been the subject of intense focus. The city’s history is inextricably linked with Haiti’s own. The port of New Orleans was coveted by American traders in the late 1700s as the revolution in Haiti was being fought. Toussaint Louverture’s successes against the French troops attempting to retake the island contributed to Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803. You can read more about the dynamics at play in the Louisiana Purchase in this article at the Louverture Project wiki.

Carl A. Brasseaux at the University of Louisiana’s Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism points out that:

Haitian immigrants have established a significant community in New Orleans over the past two decades. These emigrants from Hispañola are by no means the first to reach Louisiana. During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, doubling the Crescent City’s population. Approximately one-third of the refugees were white, an additional one-third were free persons of color, and the remaining one-third were slaves (primarily domestics). The vast majority of these refugees established themselves permanently in the Crescent City.

The early nineteenth-century immigrants had a profound impact upon New Orleans’ development. Refugees established the state’s first newspaper and introduced opera into the Crescent City. They also appear to have played a role in the development of Creole cuisine and the perpetuation of voodoo practices in the New Orleans area. More importantly, they were responsible for preserving the city’s French character for several generations.

This article at Slate attempts to explain why New Orleans came to be built where it is, below sea level and surrounded by massive levies. Some are asking whether New Orleans should be rebuilt. I can only imagine that those who ask that have never visited the city. There is a certain kind of magic there, and an undeniably unique sense of history. For all Americans, and especially the Haitian American residents of New Orleans, the city must survive and rebuild. To lose the Big Easy would be to lose a part of our soul, and to destroy a vital link between Haiti and America.