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History of Haiti:

The rule of Faustin Soulouque (Emperor Faustin 1)

1 March 1847 to 15 January 1849

Upon the death of Riche the mulatto elite needed to continue to consolidate their power, and another puppet was called for. It didn't take them long to select their man -- Faustin Soulouque. There is a famous story (which is probably not true, but it still reflects the attitudes toward Soulouque on the part of historians, since the story is often repeated). The Heinl's tell it well:

There runs a story that, during the days of Boyer, when Soulouque, still a lieutenant, was a place equerry, the president had foretold days to come in which 'any man in Haiti could become president, even [indicating Soulouque] that stupid negre over there.' In this tale, Soulouque replies humbly, 'Please, Mr. President, don't make a fool of me.'

The Heinls note in a footnote: This apocryphal anecdote, well cemented into the place of received history of Haiti, appears with no source or attribution in the works of Davis, Leyburn, and Rodman, all twienth-centrry foreigners. We have been unable to find it in any contemporary account. (Heinl, 1978, p. 195.)

What is amply clear, however, is that those who put Soulouque into power expected someone who fit the Petion tale. And, like his precedessors, he was black, old, though only 65, and believed to be weak and malleable. He became president on March 1, 1847, and appeared, early on, to be an excellent choice for his role. He kept the bulk of the Riche cabinet and quietly did their bidding.

Soulouque was about to spring his surprise. Very quietly he was building a coterie of extremely loyal black military people. He called his special gang the zinglins. (Recall the recent revival of that term to speak of the para-military criminals in the pre-Aristide days, the zinglendo.) When he was ready Soulouque lashed out against his enemies and the puppet not only ceased being a puppet, but was soon an emperor, Faustin I, and one of the strongest rulers in Haiti's history. One can even argue that not only was he pehaps the second strongest ruler in Haiti's history, but a very clear model and tutor of Francois Duvalier, the strongest leader ever.

After Soulouque killed off and pacified his mulatto masters, he then turned on any black leader who he suspected in the slightest of being disloyal.

Finally, having pacified Haiti herself (a process that he never considered fully finished, and he kept unearthing enemies or suspected enemies, the same thing for him), he turned his attention to a nagging problem, Santo Domingo. He wanted to reunite the country, and in the process secure Haiti from foreign influence. Three times he tired, and three times he failed. It consumed a great deal of the energy of his administration.

On August 26, 1849 he was proclaimed an emperor, and eventually in a lavish ceremony, was crowned on April 18, 1852.

By 1856 he returned back to Port-au-Prince after his third failure in Santo Domingo, his power was in decline. There had been no visible improvements in the country and the rule of Faustin I was one of a brutal dictator. Everyone was terrified of him and plots simmered in secret. On December 22, 1858 Fabre Geffrard declared himself as president and took up the banner of revolution. Finally on January 15, 1859 Soulouque and his family set sail for Jamaica.

I have purposely just sketched the barest details of Soulouque's administration. The general picture of Soulouque is extremely negative. However, I lean very strongly with those who see much more substance to Soulouque than the standard view. Below is an precis of an article which appeared in 1965 and gives what I think is a generally balanced view of Soulouque and puts him in a much more favorable light than the standard view.

The Soulouque Regime In Haiti -- 1847 - 1859: A Reevaluation.

By Murdo J. MacLeod, in Caribbean Studies, Vol. 10. No. 3.

A paper read at the first meeting of the Conference on Haitian Studies, Boston, April 11, 1969.

A Precis by Bob Corbett
July, 1995

MacLeod argues that Haiti has produced several figures, most notably Dessalines, Soulouque and Francois Duvalier, who are quickly passed over as barbaric. He ask WHY has Haiti produced this type. He sets out to re-examine the way Soulouque is generally understood as a way of shedding some light on this subject.

I. The dominant view. Soulouque was a rather old and dumb black leader, put into power to be a puppet for a group of Boyerist mulattoes. By some sort of accident and animal power he rose to brutally suppress his enemies, created a bizarre royal state, carried on some fruitless invasions of the Dominican Republic and ruled as a barbaric and unsuccessful buffoon.

II. The above standard view raises several difficulties even in its own telling:

III. Thus MacLeod re-examines some events, acts and motivations in Soulouque's move to power.

IV. Conclusion

MacLeod acknowledges the difficulties of resolving disputes over WHO Soulouque really was. Virtually no official government records of cabinet meetings exist, thus:

We are left with his policies as they are discernible, with an assessment of the men whom he used to govern, and with our evaluation of how correct his appreciation of the situation really was. In every case we must conclude that Faustin Soulouque was a man of high intelligence, a realist, a pragmatist, and a superb, if ruthless politician and diplomat. There is no denying his patriotism and his ability to impose domestic tranquility. (p. 47.)

Of the seventy-two years between the fall of Boyer and the United States occupation mulattoes governed only eight. For better or worse this is partly the legacy of Haiti's last emperor. (p. 48)