Degree Granting Department
John M. Belohlavek, Ph.D.
Eighteenth century, Diplomatic relations, Foreign trade, Haiti, Toussaint L'Ouverture
At first glance Thomas Jefferson's presidential actions concerning the Haitian Revolution seem to denote racially motivated decisions predicated upon fear. However, through a deeper analysis of primary documents, Jefferson's position appears more economically and politically ambitious. By 1791, the French colony of Saint Domingue held the title of the richest colony in the Caribbean and the world's leading producer of sugar. In addition, Saint Domingue consumed about sixteen percent of all of America's exports. Jefferson's personal opinions concerning revolution and trade on the island of Saint Domingue contradict the statements of his administration. Partisan politics manifested a stern voice within the Republican Party that cried out for an end to all trade with the island.
Thomas Jefferson's republican and revolutionary ideals of freedom, as well as the ideals of many Americans, became transformed by the social transgression of the Caribbean blacks against white hegemony. Their actions, along with press accounts, become "grotesque" in comparison to pure republican and revolutionary ideals. Jefferson, though publicly in tune with the wishes of his party, used his chief advisors to carry out a foreign policy that appeased the South and allowed for continued trade with Saint Domingue. Contemporary historians often categorize Jefferson's foreign policy concerning Haiti as a completely racist agenda. For example, historians frequently cite Jefferson as having said he would, "reduce Toussaint to starvation," but in reality this excerpt comes from a report sent by Louis Pinchon, the French chargé d'affaires, to his superiors.
While labeling this report false seems excessive, ignoring the possibility of exaggeration by Pinchon and placation by Jefferson becomes a dangerous oversight. Through a fresh analysis of primary documents, especially those used out of context, an understanding emerges that portrays Jefferson not as a racial equalitarian or as "a man intellectually undone by his negrophobia," but as a political figure who acknowledges the republican values inherent in revolution and, at the same time, the necessity of economic prosperity to sustain the United States.
Scholar Commons Citation
Boyd, Joseph A., ""Under the bloody hatchet of the Haitians": Thomas Jefferson's foreign policy concerning the Haitian Revolution, 1791-1806" (2007). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.