From Thu Jan 8 15:15:07 2004
Date: Thu, 8 Jan 2004 13:40:56 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17774: This Week in Haiti 21:43 01/07/2004 (fwd)

To rebel is justified; Cuba, Haiti and John Brown (part 2)

By Sara Flounders, Haiti Progres This Week in Haiti, Vol.21 no.43, 7–13 January 2004

In last week’s installment from the new book Haiti: A Slave Revolution, Flounders traced how revolutionary Haiti was isolated by the world’s powers just as revolutionary Cuba is today. Nonetheless, Haiti’s example inspired millions of enslaved people as well as abolitionists in the United States, including John Brown.

The debates that swirled through the abolitionist movement, in its meetings, in its many tabloids and in the entire literature of the day, revolved around how could the Southern slavocracy be defeated. Would moral persuasion or political maneuvers in Congress even restrain its expansion westward? Could laws and treaties restricting the international trade in human beings end slavery? Would condemnation, outrage and religious resolutions be successful?

Within the national and the international movement to abolish slavery, Haiti was seen and often referred to as a living example of a successful armed rebellion of slaves.

The great Black leader, orator, author and escaped slave Frederick Douglass, wrote of the debate on the role of the armed struggle to end slavery in his description of his meeting with John Brown in his autobiography. Captain Brown denounced slavery in look and language fierce and bitter, thought that slave holders had forfeited their right to live, that the slaves had the right to gain their liberty in any way they could, did not believe that moral suasion would ever liberate the slave, or that political action would abolish the system. This discussion had a profound impact on Douglass. He wrote, While I continue to write and speak against slavery, I become all the same less hopeful of its peaceful abolition.

This is what he had to say about Haiti, in a speech that is included in this book: While slavery existed amongst us, her example was a sharp thorn in our side and a source of alarm and terror. She came into the sisterhood of nations through blood. She was described at the time of her advent, as a very hell of horrors. Her very name was pronounced with a shudder. She was a startling and frightful surprise and a threat to all slave- holders throughout the world, and the slave-holding world has had its questioning eye upon her career ever since.

Fifty years after the Haitian Revolution, slavery in the U.S. had not only survived but it was growing and expanding.

Two legal decisions passed in the 1850s reinforced slavery throughout the whole U.S.. The Fugitive Slave Act allowed gangs and bounty hunters to pursue escaped slaves into the free states of the North. The Dred Scott decision declared even in the North freed Black people could not become U.S. citizens. The decision held that even free black people had no rights that white people were bound to respect.

In 1854, as slavery grew stronger and extended its reach, there arose within the abolitionist movement the immediate issue of how to stop the slave south from becoming the majority in congress through the expansion of slavery west into new states. Thousands of abolitionists uprooted their homes and moved to Kansas for the express purpose of preventing Kansas from entering the Union as a slave state. Powerful slave owners paid for hired guns to invade Kansas to burn these small farmers out and open the region for slave plantations. The whole anti-slavery effort seemed doomed. John Brown organized an armed resistance to the invasion of slave owners. Kansas erupted into civil war. It was called Bloody Kansas. Kansas finally entered the Union a free state.

After the success of armed abolitionists in Kansas and the first military defeat of slave holders in the United States, Brown spent three years studying military tactics along with all that he could find regarding past slave revolts. He made maps of fugitive slave routes. He was especially interested in the history and experiences of the Haitian Revolution.

The only Black survivor of the October 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry, Osborne Anderson, a freeman and a printer, wrote a small book about the reason for the failure of the military action. Anderson wrote to encourage future armed actions and to rebut the lies of the slavocracy that the action failed because slaves were unwilling to take up arms against their masters. He explained that the raid failed for tactical reason but that overwhelmingly the slaves joined the attack at the first possibility.

For Haiti, the struggle convulsing the slave-owning super-power next door was of enormous importance. The existence and the continual expansion of chattel slavery just a few hundred miles from isolated Haiti by the super-power of the region meant that the survival of Haiti was a precarious gamble.

Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859 along with four co- conspirators. Two of the conspirators, Shields Green and John Copeland, were Black. Of great note was that Black and white participants went to their deaths unrepentant and defiant just as the great heroes of the Haitian Revolution had done.

The trial of John Brown was covered in enormous detail in the newspapers of the day in the free states and in the slave states, in Europe and Haiti. But only in Haiti were there days of national mourning for John Brown’s execution. Haitians collected $20,000 for Brown’s family. Twenty thousand dollars was an enormous sum in 1859, especially in such a poor and blockaded country.

After the execution of John Brown in December 1859 flags in Port- au-Prince were flown at half mast. A solemn mass was held in the cathedral where the President Fabre Nicholas Geffard attended and spoke.

The main boulevard of Port-au-Prince was named John Brown Boulevard. It survives to this day.

As Frederick Douglass said, If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery... Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy, and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises... The clash of arms was at hand.

John Brown was a deeply religious man. He saw the struggle against slavery in biblical terms. But as he was led to his death, a minister offered to pray with him. Brown refused saying that no justifier of slavery could pray for him. His last words were: It is easy to hang me, but this question this slave question that remains to be settled.

It was settled in blood. It took four years of a wrenching civil war and more than half a millions deaths. But centuries of chattel slavery remain deeply imbedded in wage slavery. Racism permeates every aspect of life in the U.S. today.

The same class North and South who built their fortunes and accumulated vast capital through the slave trade remains in power in the U.S. today. Their rage at the Haitian revolution continues in the sanctions, military interventions and deportations of Haitians today.

The Cuban revolution, although blockaded and under siege, has shown the next step. It will take a second, more thoroughgoing revolution that seeks to transform all capitalist property relations, to begin to truly root out the heritage of slavery in the United States.