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Video transcript
Where we left off in the last video, Toussaint L'Ouverture had just been betrayed, on some level, first by some of his right-hand men, because they joined the side of Leclerc-- or essentially they gave up rebelling against Leclerc-- convinced that Leclerc wasn't that bad, that he had no intention of reinstating slavery or taking away the civil rights of the freemen of African descent. This is another picture of Leclerc, right here. This is Leclerc. So he had to essentially give up his arms. He went to negotiate with Leclerc, Leclerc imprisoned him, put him on a boat, and sent him to France and he died the next year in 1803. So he was betrayed. And he really was, on a lot of levels, one of the most important leaders not just in Haitian history, but in general. When he took power, as I said before, he didn't take revenge on the white population. He helped the economy of Haiti get back up and running. He actually helped defend what is now Haiti, but Saint-Domingue against the British Royal Navy. I forgot to mention that. Defended against the British Navy, which at the time was by far the dominant navy in the world. So this is what really earned his reputation as a great general, on top of being a great leader in terms of not exacting revenge, in terms of not having slash and burn tactics, in terms of not just ravaging his enemies. So he was betrayed, and then just to make it clear that Leclerc really does deserve devil horns of a sort-- although we're about to meet someone who deserves much bigger devil horns, or maybe that he was actually the henchman for someone who deserves devil horns-- in May of 1802, Napoleon signs a law that reinstates slavery where it has not disappeared. And so it was a little bit ambiguous. There were some areas where slavery had still not disappeared. Those include the French colonies at Martinique, at Saint Lucia, at Tobago. But in Haiti-- or Saint-Domingue, at that time-- things were a little ambiguous. Had slavery truly disappeared, or had it not disappeared yet? Apparently, slaves were free in Haiti. So it wasn't clear exactly what this meant for Haiti, but at the same time, the Haitians didn't even know this was happening. This was May of 1802. But just to make things clear, Napoleon actually sent Leclerc a secret memo to essentially reinstate slavery when the time was right. So these guys, they were no jokers. They knew the situation. They knew that they needed the help of some of Toussaint L'Ouverture's former generals, former right-hand men, in order to keep control of Haiti. But the intention the entire time was, when they have the upper hand, to actually clamp down, reinstate slavery, and take away the civil rights of the freemen of color. Now these guys weren't stupid either. So you might remember Dessalines. This was one picture of him. He was also a former slave, one of Toussaint L'Ouverture's right-hand men, very effective general. And, as you remember, near the end of the fight against Leclerc, he gave up the fight against Leclerc and to some degree you could say he turned on Toussaint L'Ouverture. But he and some of the other former followers of L'Ouverture saw the writing on the wall. They didn't even have to intercept that secret memo. They got word from Martinique and Tobago and Saint Lucia that slavery was being reinstated. The French at this time were not people that you wanted to deal with or trust when it came to issues of slavery. So Dessalines and his comrades re-took up arms. And Dessalines was a very different character than Toussaint L'Ouverture. The one similarity is that they were both very effective military men. The big difference between the two was that Dessalines was not one to hold back. He wasn't afraid to essentially take an eye for an eye, so to speak. So here you had Dessalines in charge of what was, I guess you could call, the slave rebel army. And then on the other side of it, you have Leclerc with the 40,000 troops that he showed up, with Napoleon. But lucky for Dessalines, yellow fever-- and it's not lucky. I mean, people died across the board. But this did really turn the tide of war in favor of the people of African descent on the island. Yellow fever struck the island, it killed Leclerc, and it also took out twenty something thousand-- or the number I read was 24,000-- of the actual French soldiers, and another 8,000 were hospitalized. So that's 32,000 out of commission, so you're essentially only left with 8,000 soldiers. So all of a sudden, it completely turned the tide, completely changed the numbers in terms of what types of forces the rebel army had to fight against. But it wasn't all good at this point because Leclerc-- I mentioned, I gave him little devil horns-- he was replaced by someone who deserves very big devil horns named Rochambeau. Not to be confused with his father, who goes by the same name who was a hero of the American Revolution. He fought for France on the side of the Americans. And he, as far as I can tell, seemed like a decent guy. But his son was really evil. And there are very few people in history that you can say are unambiguously evil. He is one of them. Now that he was kind of desperate, his forces were ravaged by yellow fever, he's going against a fairly aggressive enemy, he did things like-- let me write these down because they are evil. He would bury African-- or I guess I should say African Americans. He would bury former slaves, or people of African descent-- bury in, bury alive in pits of insects. He would boil people alive in molasses. I read one account that says that at one point he held a ball where he invited all of the prominent mixed-race people to a party essentially at his place and at the stroke of midnight he announced that all of the men are to be murdered. The only bounds on his cruelty was the people that he could get his hands on, especially the people of African descent. The one positive of his cruelty is that he for the first time really unified the population of African descent on the island. So he unified both the slaves, the former slaves, and the mixed-race. And at the same time, we're now in 1803. And, I've said it before, we're still at war with Britain. And Britain is-- and I've mentioned it before-- they had the most dominant navy in the world. This guy, despite how evil and how cruel he was, he needed reinforcements from Napoleon if he had to take on Dessalines. And let me be very clear about this. Dessalines, as I mentioned, he was not hesitant to take an eye for an eye. In one incident, Rochambeau buried 500 rebel prisoners alive, then Dessalines went and hung 500 French prisoners. So he wasn't someone to kind of shy away from, I guess, blood. And this is very different to Toussaint L'Ouverture. It's kind of a lesson. If you are fighting an enemy, if you get rid of the more reasonable leaders of your enemy, you might end up getting maybe a leader more similar to yourself and your cruelty, if you betrayed the more reasonable ones. But anyway, enough of my commentary. So the stage is set. War with Britain. Britain owns the seas, especially the Caribbean. This guy needs reinforcements going against a very strong leader of the former slave rebels. But Napoleon, he's known to be one to cut his losses. He did it with his troops in Egypt. He's really not someone who really cares, I think, about the individual. He cares much more about his ego and his power. So Napoleon leaves them hanging. Napoleon saw the writing on the wall. He wouldn't be able to get through the British fleet. And at the same time, Napoleon's fighting all of these wars in Europe. As you remember, the whole French Revolution was precipitated by France being broke. So Napoleon, not only does he give up on this guy-- and he essentially got what he deserved-- Napoleon gives up on maintaining all of their colonies or any major presence in the Western Hemisphere. So essentially to raise funds, Napoleon also sells Louisiana to the Americans. Now when I say Louisiana, I'm not talking about just the state of Louisiana in its present state, which is about that big. That's actually where I was born. We're talking about the whole-- this is like 1/3 of the United States today. Sold all of this. And he was clearly desperate. He sold it for $15 million, or that's the equivalent of F60 million. And I've been told, in today's money, that would be on the order of $10 billion. You know, if someone said for $10 billion, you could own 1/3 of the land of the United States, you would say that's a pretty good deal. $10 billion in today's money. So $15 million 1803, $10 billion today, that's still not a lot of money, but he was desperate. He realized that he couldn't maintain control of something halfway around the world when Britain owned the seas and he was busy having his own troubles in Europe. So the Americans got a good deal. And frankly, if he didn't sell it to the Americans, either the British or the Americans could have probably just taken it anyway. So being left to hang to dry by Napoleon, Dessalines is able to destroy Rochambeau and essentially declare independence for Saint-Domingue. And it 1804, January 1. Dessalines declares independence for, and he names the new country Haiti, which is the indigenous peoples' name for the island. It means land of the mountains. Now I want to just leave with one note, because you may or may not be aware. Haiti is still a very, very, very, very poor country. And besides, after Dessalines, they had many, many, many-- and eventually, I'll do videos on it-- rounds of one dictator after another. And the people have really been through a lot. But I just want to make it clear that they really got started off on a horrible foot. Because even though Dessalines declared independence in 1804, the French did not recognize Haiti until 1805-- sorry- 1825. And you might say, well, who cares about recognition? Who cares what the former colonial masters think? But until they recognized them, they were essentially embargoing Haiti. They weren't allowing any trade to actually go on with Haiti. So it was really on the front of a barrel gun. And in order to be recognized, Haiti had to agree to F90 million of debt to France. And just to be clear how much money this is, here's a small island-- or half of an island-- of newly freed slaves and they were forced to owe France-- and this actually was further reinforced by the United States and Great Britain. So it goes to show you, even former enemies can kind of agree when it comes to a oppressing small impoverished islands. But they had to owe France the equivalent of 1 and 1/2 times what the United States paid for the Louisiana Purchase. This was F60 million. They got all of Louisiana. Now France is telling Haiti, you owe us F90 million. Or that's roughly the equivalent of $14 or $15 billion in today's terms. And this is for a population of essentially half a million freed slaves. So it's kind of a horrendous amount of debt. And just to be clear, this wasn't like the crazy colonials in the early 19th century, forcing to do this. This debt was not paid off with the interest until 1947. They were continuing to pay the debt. And just to add insult to injury, the reason for the debt, they claim, was for lost property. So that's why France claimed that Haiti owed them the money, for lost property. Where, included in the list of lost property was land and slaves. Essentially, now that you've got your freedom, you owe us a ton of money for us losing the rights to own you. So it's just insult to injury. And actually, I was shocked the first time I learned this number, that they were forced to continue to pay debts from one poor country, one small poor country, right over here, they had to continue to pay debts to a Western developed nation until 1947, essentially to buy their freedom.