Friday, February 26, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 8, "The White Slave-Owners Again"

Toussaint wanted Laveaux out, though not out of hostility. Toussaint wanted to take over as commander-in-chief. He encouraged Laveaux to return to France as a representative of the colony in the Convention.

Laveaux was needed there anyway as a reliable voice against slavery. With the demise of Robespierre and the Jacobins in 1795, France got a new government more strictly responsive to propertied interests. The merchants and expatriate planters resumed agitation for bringing blacks back under subjection in the name of imposing order.

Sonthonax, who had returned as governor, was both a loyal republican and an ardent supporter of the blacks in San Domingo. His attempt to assert his prerogatives as governor put him into conflict with the mulatto oligarchy led by Rigaud in the South. Toussaint, appreciating that Rigaud remained faithful to the Republic, had advised Sonthonax to leave the situation alone while the colony was at war. But Sonthonax sent a commission anyway to put Rigaud's troops under central control and arrest suspected anti-republican plotters. The two whites among the commissioners sent by Sonthonax handled the situation badly, and ended up provoking a revolt and massacre. Sonthonax's subsequent attempts to reduce the territory under Rigaud's authority yielded only more resistance and led Rigaud to seek support from Toussaint.

The San Domingo colony prospered under Sonthonax's governorship. He was hostile to any reconciliation with the former slave owners - far more so than was Toussaint, who he made commander-in-chief.

17 August 1797 -- Toussaint forces Sonthonax out. This was a sudden turn, which puts in some doubt Toussaint's explanation that he had to move to forestall a longstanding Sonthonax project to massacre the whites of the colony and gain independence. James argues that both Sonthonax and Toussaint would have been well aware of the growing strength of the reactionary allies of the exiled planters in France, and would have come to see that securing the liberty for blacks depended on independence. For Toussaint, however, the safest route to independence was to temporize by making a sacrificial lamb of Sonthonax.

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