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The History of Haiti: 1804-1820

Part 1: Introduction and setting the problematic facing the nation

The immediate post-revolutionary period of Haitian history was a terribly difficult one. The country was in shambles. Most of the plantations were destroyed, many skilled overseers were gone (either dead, in hiding, or having fled for their lives because of the treatment of slaves), skilled managers were often also gone, the former slaves did not want to work someone else's plantation, there was a grave fear that France would re-invade, and the rest of the international community was either openly hostile or totally uninterested in Haiti.

The opening sentence is the Heinls' treatment of this period is: "With the dawn of 1804, Haiti's highest hour has passed." (Heinl and Heinl, 1978) This sad judgment seems to me to reflect the views of most Haitians I've ever talked with, and most histories, both Haitian and foreign.

If ever an historical moment stood out, Haiti's Revolution is one such event and is Haiti's glory forever, and a major source of national pride. Perhaps with the determination of today's progressive groups, Haiti could be at the beginnings of a new "great moment," though it is much slower to success than most would wish -- but, then, so were the earliest years of the Revolution.

At any rate, January 1, 1804 left Haiti facing a desperate task. She was:

This was the situation that depopulated Haiti faced on January 1, 1804. (Probably fewer than 350,000 Haitians survived the revolution.)

The earliest days of the Haitian nation, from 1804 until 1820, are the story of the response to these difficult conditions by three main leaders: Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe and Alexander Petion. My treatment will emphasize that the short rule of Dessalines, and the longer rule of Christophe in norther Haiti, failed to solved these problems and to return Haiti to her position of wealth and importance she held before independence. Further, I will argue that Petion's rule in the south set the tone and social structures in place that determined the economic and social life of Haiti for the next century.