Gresham College Lectures

Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

October 27, 2022 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution
Show Notes Transcript

Toussaint Louverture (the “Black Spartacus”), was one of the main leaders of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), which overthrew slavery and led to the proclamation of the world’s first independent post-colonial state.

The lecture discusses his extraordinary life and legacy, as well as the international impacts of the Haitian Revolution across the 19th and 20th centuries, and how its ideals of equality, justice, and solidarity are still relevant to our times.

A lecture by Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh FBA

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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- Thank you for coming to hear about Toussaint Louverture, and of course, this is Black History Month, so it's a particularly nice moment to be talking about Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution. What I want to do is, really, to talk about, through Toussaint Louverture, to talk about the Haitian Revolution, which is, I think, one of the most comprehensive and one of the purest examples of revolutionary change that we have had in the history of the modern world. The Haitian Revolution was really a series of changes that took place between 1791 and 1804, and it's generally described as the only successful revolution of enslaved people, and it took place in the French colony of Saint-Domingue which is in the Caribbean, and was France's richest colony, and it led, in the year 1804, to the establishment of the state of Haiti, which is the world's first independent, Black, postcolonial state. So what I'll try and do in this lecture is, I'll talk a bit about Toussaint Louverture, but I'll also, as the title of the lecture suggests, talk about the Haitian Revolution, because although my book is a biography, I've really used Toussaint Louverture, who was the kind of leader of this revolution, as a way of talking about the revolution itself, it's the revolution itself which, I think, is the really interesting subject, and Toussaint is like a vehicle, like a means of talking about this revolution, because I think, as I hope to be able to show to you in the course of the lecture, this is the world's greatest and most impactful revolution, and I mark my words because we've had a lot of revolutions in history, but to my mind, the Haitian Revolution is the greatest revolution of modern times, and I'll try and show you, through various aspects of it, why. So let me start with just quickly describing this revolution to you, because you may not be familiar with all the details of it. It happened in this place called Saint-Domingue, which was, as I say, a colony of France in the Caribbean. It was France's wealthiest colony, so one of its nicknames was the Pearl of the Antilles, it produced fabulous amounts of wealth through the production of sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and various other products which were greatly prized at the time in the colonial world. However, all of this wealth was produced by the enslaved population, and by the year 1789, you had about 500,000 slaves in the colony of Saint-Domingue. To give you a sense of the contrast in the numbers, the number of white settlers there at that time was about 30,000, so you had 30,000 white settlers and about 500,0000 enslaved men and women. The thing about these enslaved men and women is that most of them were actually, in the late 18th century, born in Africa, and they enjoyed no civil or political rights, none at all, they were considered as property, they belonged to their owners. So when the revolution happened in France in 1789, and you may heard of this revolution, this was the revolution that promised people liberty, equality, and fraternity, these great principles, so when this revolution happened in France, the slaves turned round to the new revolutionary leaders in France, and said, well what about these rights for us? Can we also have some liberty, equality, and fraternity? And the French said no, no, this is basically only for white people. They didn't put it quite so crudely, but that's basically what they meant. This is a representation of a slave plantation in the late 18th century. So very quickly, the slaves decided they had to take matters into their own hands, and in 1791, at this very famous ceremony at a place called Bois Caiman, in Haiti, the slaves launched their insurrection, in August, 1791. And basically, this is the insurrection where they demand to be given the same rights as French citizens. And the revolution starts, it very quickly spreads to most of the territory, there's a lot of violence and a lot of white settlers are killed. However, by 1793, the French realize that there's nothing that they can do to stop the demands of the slaves for their freedom, so in 1793, in Saint-Domingue, the slaves receive their freedom, and a year later, in 1794, the French National Assembly in Paris proclaims the abolition of slavery, and so this is an important moment for France as a whole. However, you will note that the abolition in France comes after the abolition in Saint-Domingue, and so Saint-Domingue is really the main reason why the French decide, in 1794, to abolish slavery, and that already is something important to bear in mind, because it's not always the way in which the story is told, even to this day, in France. The French themselves, when they talk about the history of slavery and the history of abolition, they often just say, well, in 1794, our glorious National Assembly abolished slavery. What they forget to mention is that the main reason they did this was because the slaves in Bois Caiman launched this insurrection in 1791. So at this point, 1791, appears on the stage a man called Toussaint Louverture. Nobody had heard of him before, and indeed, in 1791, he wasn't even calling himself by that name. He would soon come to be called the Black Spartacus, but I'll come back to that a little later. Toussaint was born sometime in the early 1740s, I say sometime in the early 1740s because we don't know for sure when exactly he was born, enslaved people didn't have birth certificates. We think it's probably 1740, 1741, around there. His parents were enslaved and captured in West Africa, from the Kingdom of Allada, which, in today's terms, in the Central African Republic of Benin, and they were brought over to Saint-Domingue in the early 18th century, and Toussaint was born there, as I say, sometime in the early 1740s. He spent the first, really, 50 years of his life in a single place, on this farm, that probably looked rather like this, it was a farm called Breda, in the north of the colony. He started his career there, as it were, if I could use that expression, as a shepherd, but very quickly, the authorities on the farm realized that he was prodigiously gifted, he was a fantastic horse rider, he learned various medical skills, just herbal medicine, he knew how to treat animals that were suffering from various diseases, so very quickly, he rose within the ranks of the slave farm and became, basically, the kind of assistant manager of the plantation, under its leader, a man called Bayon de Libertat, and Bayon emancipates Toussaint. Again, we don't have the exact date, but it's probably sometime around the 1770s. And so by the time we've got to the French Revolution and the launching of the insurrection in 1791, Toussaint is already a 50 year-old man, and that, I think, is also something interesting. One often thinks of revolutionaries as young people, and revolutionaries are people who are often thought of as people who will be prepared to risk everything, are very romantic and idealistic, well, Toussaint doesn't fit that profile at all. In fact, he doesn't know it yet, but he's already lived most of his life by 1791, he's a mature, sober, responsible person. And he joins this revolution in 1791, and very quickly, he rises within the ranks of the revolution, he becomes a general in the French Republican Army. I want to go back to this cover. This is the cover of my book, and it's by a Haitian artist called Francois Cauvin, who painted this in 2009. I'm very keen not to use any of the images of Toussaint Louverture that date to the 18th and 19th centuries because we don't really know what he looked like. We know for sure that he sat for one painting, but that painting, sadly, has been destroyed or lost, so we don't have it anymore. I much prefer, when I think about Toussaint, and of course, when people drew or painted Black people in the 18th and 19th centuries, they often painted them in rather negative, stereotypical ways, so I much prefer this painting, which is a painting from a contemporary Haitian artist, and it shows Toussaint Louverture as a French general. You might notice that he has a guinea fowl on his head, which you might think curious, why would you put basically a chicken on top of the head of a revolutionary leader? This is interesting from the point of view of the traditions and the folklore of Haiti and Saint-Domingue, because the guinea fowl was a bird that was introduced in Saint-Domingue by colonizers in the 17th century, I think, and one of its characteristics, almost immediately upon its being introduced in the island, was that it ran away, it refused to be kept captive, so for the enslaved men and women of Saint-Domingue, the guinea fowl was always a symbol of freedom, a symbol of the refusal to live a life of captivity. And up to this day, the guinea fowl is a symbol of freedom, and that's why Francois has painted Toussaint in this way, and I think it's just a lovely representation of his revolutionary spirit. So who was Toussaint Louverture? I'll say a bit more about him in more detail in a moment, but just to give you a flavor of the kind of revolutionary leader that he becomes, he was flamboyant, he was charismatic, he had a prodigious memory, he ate very little, slept very little, on average three or four hours, he rarely slept in the same bed from one night to the other because he was always on the move, he spent a lot of his time galloping on his white horse, we know that he had several white horses, so that's the kind of person that he was. He had massive support in the 1790s, and that was one of the most extraordinary things about him. He was supported by, obviously, the former slaves, the people that he had helped to emancipate, but also by the white settlers, because they regarded him as their savior, they thought that he would help them keep at least some of their interests and benefits in the island. And there was something almost magical about him, that's the only way I can describe him, and this sense of magic, his own supporters believed that he had special magical powers, and even his opponents, even his adversaries were mesmerized by him, they were bewildered by him, he was always wrong-footing them. And I have this quote from a French officer who arrives in the early 1800s to try and topple Toussaint,

and he describes him as follows:

"Louverture was a man who managed to make himself invisible"where he was,"and visible where he was not."He seemed to have borrowed his spontaneity of movement"from the tiger," a wonderful way of characterizing him. So what happens in the 1790s, I'll come back to this in a little bit more detail shortly, but just to give you the one-minute summary, is that he gathers a group of supporters around him, rises to power, defeats all the foreign forces that are trying to cling on to slavery on the island, these are mainly the Spaniards and the British. The British are the baddies in this period, I'm afraid, they're there from 1793 up to 1798, and they're basically trying to maintain slavery on the island, so not one of the most glorious moments in British colonial history, I'm not sure there are many others, but anyway, that's something else, but this is a particularly dark episode. Anyway, Toussaint defeats them and kicks them out, and he does the same thing to the Spaniards, so he's a great general, but he also, and this is another interesting part of the story, he tactically outflanks the French administrators who are there, and who are notionally administering the island in the name of France, and Louverture kind of befriends them, bullies them, uses a wide variety of tactics, and basically packs them off one after the other, and the last French administrator who's there, who arrives in the late 1790s, Toussaint, I have to say, perhaps not very elegantly, basically arrests him and sends him into internal exile, where he's kept for two years before being sent back to France. So anyway, Toussaint establishes control over the island, and in 1801, he promulgates a new constitution for the colony of Saint-Domingue, and this new constitution makes him governor for life, abolishes slavery forever, and effectively makes Saint-Domingue an autonomous entity within the French Colonial Empire. So at this point, somebody else enters the scene, I haven't mentioned him yet, but he plays a very major part in this story, this is Napoleon Bonaparte. Wendy mentioned that I had written about him, he also plays a very negative role, unfortunately, in this story, because Bonaparte has come to power in France in 1799, and as soon as he comes to power, he wants to restore order in the colonies, and what that means for him is he needs to get rid of these Black people who are running things. So he sends a military expedition to Saint-Domingue in late 1801 basically to topple Toussaint Louverture, and not to put it in any subtle way, because he says so explicitly, his aim in sending this military expedition to Saint-Domingue, is to restore white rule, he wants to get rid of this new Black leadership that has emerged on the island. Toussaint leads the resistance, unfortunately he's captured in 1802 and sent to a French fort, where he dies in 1803, but the Haitian people, they're not yet Haitian, but about to become Haitian, they rise in a kind of final insurrection against the French invaders, they fight them off and defeat them at the Battle of Vertieres, in November, 1803. The French troops then leave Saint-Domingue, and as I said, Haiti becomes an independent state in 1804. And so Toussaint Louverture didn't live to witness this moment, he had died one year before, but I think we can properly regard him as one of the founding fathers of modern Haitian independence. Before I talk in a little bit more detail about this revolution, and the role that Toussaint Louverture played in it, there's one little question that I want to touch on, which is a comparative one, which is, why did this revolution succeed? Those of you who've done a little bit of reading about the history of slavery will know that slaves resisted in many places. In fact, we now know that in any place where there was a significant number of slaves, they didn't passively accept their condition, they fought, I mean, it was a very uneven fight, but they rebelled against their condition. and we know, even in the 18th century, that there were massive uprisings of enslaved people in Jamaica, in Dutch Guiana, in Venezuela, in Cuba, in the United States even, so in all of these places, slaves revolted, but they only succeeded, in the way that the Haitians succeeded, in one place, in Saint-Domingue. So why, why did it succeed here and fail, at least fail to the extent the objective is to overturn slavery, why did it fail in all these other places? Well, I think there's a number of reasons, and in spelling them out, I think I'm already starting to talk about the broader characteristics of the Haitian Revolution. The first reason is just numbers. As I indicated to you earlier on, there's this huge disparity between the 30,000 white settlers and the 500,000 Black slaves, so the slave army was much bigger. Numbers aren't everything, but numbers played a significant role at least in allowing the slave to fight back. The second reason, I think, is an interesting one, because it's to do with their ideology, and the Haitian Revolution is really interesting because it's really a very original revolution in the sense that the ideas for transformation, the ideas for change, the ideas for the better society that they're hoping to build, come from a wide range of sources. They come from the Enlightenment, they come from Europe, they come from revolutionary ideas of change that have gained currency there, but they also come from the Caribbean, and indeed, Louverture himself is someone who has his own brand of Catholicism, he's someone who taps into the existing spiritual system of belief in Haiti, which is called Vodou, and which plays an important role throughout these revolutionary periods, but there's also Africa. These enslaved men and women come from Africa, as I mentioned to you at the beginning, most of them were born in Africa, and many of them bring their beliefs, their values, their practical skills, many of them had been combatants in various African armies. One of the things we know now, colleagues who've studied the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we know that probably a significant minority, if not a majority of the slaves who were sent from Africa to various parts of the Caribbean and the Americas were actually people who were captured during military conflicts. So these were people who already had some kind of, in some cases, quite advanced military training, military techniques, and they used these military techniques in their war against the British, the Spaniards, and then finally the French. And there's also, I think what is really interesting about the Haitian Revolution, is that this is a revolution which brings together many different kind of political organization, political organizations that are offshoots of the French Revolution, but also political organizations that are based locally, and which derive from the runaway slaves, which derive from local Catholic organizations, which derive from the mobilizations of different groups. This is a revolution, also, where women play an important role. One of the striking characteristics, both of the early slave revolt, after 1791, and what I think one could call the war of national liberation, in 1802, 1803, 1804, is that a lot of the combatants are women, so this is a revolution in which women play a major role. And so in all of these respects, this is an insurrection, a revolution which is distinct, and that, I think, is the reason why it succeeds. And last but not least, and of course I would say this, wouldn't I, having written a book about him, but I think leadership is also very important. Revolutions, and particularly slave revolutions, are more likely to succeed if they are effectively led. And very often, when you look at slave revolts, particularly in the 18th century, often, the one thing that they don't have is a clear, distinct, strong, charismatic leader, so I think having that actually helped them enormously in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. So that's the broad picture, now what I want to do is focus back onto Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, and just pick out some of the big themes that I think come out of this revolution, and really justify us paying continuing attention to it in the 21st century. Because one of the things about this revolution is that, although it was an enormously significant historical event, I think it also still speaks to us in the 21st century, and I'll try and say something about that very quickly at the end of the talk, but I'm going to try and go a little bit more quickly now to make sure that we have a little bit of time for questions. So what are the main characteristics of this revolution? The first thing, I think, is that this is a revolution which is about slavery, fundamentally about slavery, slavery is the unifying feature of the revolution, it is obviously the reason why you have the revolution in the first place, in 1791, the slaves are fighting to emancipate themselves. When you look at Toussaint Louverture's strategic objectives as a leader throughout the 1790s and all the way up to the early 1800s, you'll see that, very firmly on his horizon, is the goal of preserving the abolition of slavery and protecting his people from re-enslavement.'Cause one of the things about Louverture is that he had, I talked about his magical powers, he had a very uncanny sense of anticipating what might happen, and he knew that if the Black people of Saint-Domingue abolished slavery, that the colonial powers in Europe wouldn't just say, wonderful, how fantastic, three cheers to you, they would try and find ways of restoring slavery, and that's eventually what Napoleon did in other parts of the Caribbean, he reimposed slavery, and France only finally abolished slavery in 1848, but Louverture wanted to stop the French from re-enslaving the people of Saint-Domingue, so that's absolutely one of his cardinal objectives. So this is a revolution which, I think, fundamentally establishes, in the eyes of the world, the legitimacy of the fight against slavery, it's the first major revolution that brings this to everybody's attention. Secondly, it's a revolution about race. You can't talk about slavery without talking about race, and of course, slavery is based on a racial hierarchy in which Black people are at the bottom and white people are on top. And this is where the originality of Toussaint Louverture, and of the Haitian Revolution, comes in. Toussaint imagined a way of moving towards a new kind of society after slavery, he imagined this through a concept, which I think is central to his political ideas, which is the concept of brotherhood, or fraternity. When you read his speeches, and I spent a lot of time reading his letters, this is his squiggly handwriting, I spent a lot of time in the archives trying to decipher what he was saying. This is an especially nice letter because he wrote it himself. He had five secretaries, so he spent all his time dictating to them, so most of the letters that we have are letters that have been written by his secretaries. I was very keen to show you this one because this one is a letter that he addressed to one of the French colonial administrators, and he was so cross with him that he just wrote the letter himself, so I wanted you to see his own handwriting. But basically, what he argues for is that after the end of slavery, the people of Saint-Domingue should be united in brotherhood, and he talks about brotherhood in two ways, two related ways. One way is that he wants all the Black people to forget about all the ethnic, religious, tribal differences that they were born with in Africa, he says, leave all of that behind, we are now a new people, and we need to work together and live together in harmony, us Black people, and Black unity is something that he talks about constantly throughout the 1790s. But brotherhood is also something that he intends to apply to all the people of Saint-Domingue, and what is extraordinary about his message is that he says to the white people, the mixed race people, and the Black people, everyone who's living in Saint-Domingue, he says, we are all one people, and we all are going to build this new colony together. And he says to the white settlers, I know that you have been slave owners and that you have done terrible things to us, but we're prepared to forgive you if you're prepared to live with this new principle where all of us enjoy civil and political equality, not economic equality, that's something that, if I have time, I'll come back to, Toussaint didn't want to dispossess the white settlers and take away their properties, he said, you can enjoy your properties, and you can have wage laborers, all we ask is that you pay them a decent wage. So that's the kind of new settlement that he proposes to them, so this idea of fraternity is something that plays an absolutely central role in his political philosophy. Then there is his republicanism, I want to say a word about this too. I've already sort of implied it in a way, but just to dwell on it a little bit, in the literature, a lot of people have written about Toussaint before me, and in fact, I've learned a great deal from their writings, but one of the things that I slightly disagree with, actually most of the literature, is that people have tended to write about the Haitian Revolution as if it was just an echo of the French Revolution. The most famous book on the Haitian Revolution, still to this day, was written by a Caribbean historian called C.L.R. James, the book is called "The Black Jacobins," and it's a biography of Toussaint Louverture, but Toussaint Louverture presented as a disciple of the French Revolution, basically. And I think that's fine, Toussaint was someone who genuinely admired the French Revolution, but that wasn't everything for him, he was also someone who drew upon the religious, scientific, and military traditions of African people, he drew upon his own Catholicism, he drew upon even the spiritual ideas of the original inhabitants of the land of Haiti, who were the Native American Taino people. Haiti, by the way, is a word that means Land of Mountains, that was the way that it was first described by the Native American populations of Haiti, who were wiped out by the settlers. By the time Toussaint Louverture has come in the later 18th century, the Taino people have almost disappeared, and all we have left now of them is this name, Haiti, which means Land of Mountains. And Louverture is someone, therefore, who brings together, combines all these different motifs, and that's why, I think, this is such a spectacularly interesting revolution, not only because it's successful, we study it for that reason too, but because it's fantastically creative, it's fantastically original, and it speaks to different constituencies all at once, it speaks to the Europeans, it speaks to the people of the Caribbean, it speaks to the African traditions that these formerly enslaved people were carrying with them, it's what you might call a kind of creole republicanism, creole in the sense that it's taking different elements and motifs and combining them together. And I have a really nice, little example of this, I promised I would talk about Toussaint's name, Louverture, it's a name that he adopts in 1793, at the height of the early insurrection of the slaves, and ouverture, in French, means opening. So the French thought, ah, fantastic, he's taking his name from us so he's recognizing that we are the people who inspire him, so in the French literature in particular on Toussaint Louverture, the choice of this name, Louverture, is typically seen as Toussaint recognizing the kind of superiority of the French, and to some extent, that's what Toussaint wanted the French to believe. However, when you take a closer look at Vodou spirituality, Vodou religion, Vodou has a lot of different gods, deities, and one of them is a deity called Papa Legba, and Legba is the guardian of the gates. Basically, he's the deity that you appeal to when you're trying to take a new turn in your life, when you're trying to move out of a situation where you think things are not going terribly well, and you need help to be able to move into the next phase, the next or better phase of your life, and Legba is the guardian of the gate, the gateway to this better life, so he's the guy who gives you the opening to the new life. So when Toussaint chooses the word l'ouverture, he's speaking to the French, and telling them, don't worry, I'm one of yours, I believe in the Enlightenment and in all the principles that you claim to uphold, but he's also speaking to his own people, the vast majority of whom were born in Africa, and who celebrate the Vodou religion, and he's saying, I'm a man who's going to be opening the gates for you too, and that's a really good example of how skillful he was as a political leader. This is another one of the rather more recent representations of Toussaint. I like it because it has this mystical aura. Time is running out, and I wanted to spend at least three, four minutes before closing, as I promised, talking about the legacy,'cause this is a fantastic story, and I could go on and on talking about it, but let's leave some time for what happens afterwards. So Haiti becomes the first independent, postcolonial, Black state, and the story of the Haitian Revolution after 1804 is a very interesting one, and it's a story in which, in many senses, the success continues, because the Haitian Revolution continues to inspire antislavery and anticolonial movements across the Atlantic, and it inspires, obviously, the ongoing fight against slavery. And you must know that one has to realize slavery isn't fully abolished in all parts of the Atlantic world until the late 19th century, so this is a battle that continues in many parts of the Atlantic World, and Louverture is celebrated as a hero by very many people who are continuing this struggle, it's a fight for racial justice, for self-determination, for popular sovereignty. And just to give you some specific examples, there's this great Latin American revolutionary hero called Simon Bolivar, who goes on to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule, the Haitians help him at a crucial moment in his struggle against the Latin Americans. When you look at the United States, perhaps the greatest figure to emerge in the fight against slavery is a man called Frederick Douglass, you may have heard of him, and Frederick Douglass was someone who just went around talking, campaigning against slavery, and in every lecture that he gave, whether it was in America or in Britain, he talked about Toussaint Louverture, he was absolutely obsessed with him, and regarded him as a great example of emancipation. And these appeals to the ideas of Black dignity and Black equality continued in the 20th century in the various anticolonial struggles of the 20th century. You see it both in the formation intellectual movements, such as the Negritude Movement, or in movements that were fighting to free themselves from imperialism and colonialism. For example, Fidel Castro, before he comes to power in the late 1950s, he's someone who's a great admirer of Toussaint Louverture and of the Haitian revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh, in Vietnam, talks about the Haitian Revolution, so this is a revolution that becomes emblematic, if you like, across the 19th and across the 20th centuries. And when we look at Toussaint today, we see that he's celebrated, of course, by the Haitians, this is a coin in his honor, there's a statue of Toussaint in the province of Allada, in Benin, which is where his ancestors came from, there's a bust of him in Montreal, in La Rochelle, in France, there's a very striking statue of him, and, and this perhaps is the most fitting, in the Pantheon, in Paris, the Pantheon is the place where the French bury their national heroes, they bury and celebrate their national heroes, Louverture, you will remember, was captured, imprisoned, and died in France in 1803, now, since the late 20th century, the French have put up this plaque. They don't have his body anymore so they can't re-bury him there, but at least they've put up this plaque, saying,"To the memory of Toussaint Louverture,"fighter for freedom, artisan of the abolition of slavery,"Haitian hero,"died at the Fort de Joux in 1803." So Toussaint Louverture's spirit lives on, and it lives on also in social movements. We noticed that, for example, in the most recent Black Lives Matter mobilization, people were mentioning Toussaint Louverture, colleagues of mine told me, particularly in America, Louverture or Haitian flags appeared. And I'll end with a quote from Louverture, which I think is a quote that both captures his own philosophy and also the reason why he continues to matter, and this was something that he said when he was captured in 1802, and he's about to be taken away, he tells the people who've captured him,"By striking me,"you have cut the tree of Black liberty,"but it will spring back from its roots,"for they are many and deep." Thank you very much.(audience applauds)- I think I'm going to start with the villain of the piece, and the question is,"There are various stories about his capture by Bonaparte."Some say he was duped into going to France"and was captured there,"is this correct?"- Yes. Basically, what happens is that there's a military stalemate after a few months, after the French land, and Toussaint negotiates a ceasefire, and basically, he had realized that the best way of getting rid of the French would just be to let local conditions take care of them, and they would probably be defeated over time by disease, and just the attrition of that kind. However, Bonaparte had given express orders that Toussaint should be captured and brought back to France, and so they set a trap for him. Perhaps the only time in his life, because he was normally very careful, but he went to this meeting with just one or two people with him, instead of taking a military detachment, and so the French captured him and immediately put him on a boat with his family and took him to France.- It's slightly surprising, that lapse in his judgment, when he's been so assiduous all those years, and being strategic, and one step ahead of the enemy.- Yes, yes. Again, there's various thoughts there. One was that he had perhaps become a little overconfident, and thought the French were on the back-foot. Even more farfetched, I mean, I don't buy this, but there are people who think this, some people thought he almost sacrificed himself, that he felt that he had done everything that he could, and that his lieutenants would pick up the fight and carry it to its conclusion. I don't think, he wasn't that sort, he was someone who basically thought he was the best person to do the job. Even very clever people make mistakes sometimes, alas.- One from Elizabeth, she says,"Louverture seems to show a very well educated mind,"but how did he get that education?"- That's a very interesting question. We don't absolutely know for sure, because, to give you a sense of the disparity in the documentation, we have hundreds, thousands of documents about Toussaint after 1791, but for the whole 50 year period before 1791, we have, I think, a total of three documents, so we don't know, but we think that he was educated partly by the Jesuits, the Jesuits were there around the north of the colony, and they probably taught him the rudiments of reading and writing, he had a stepfather, who we know taught him some mathematics, but I think most of his education, not uncharacteristically for the period, he educated himself, and a lot of that happened in the early 1790s. The other interesting thing just to throw in here is that, you may have noticed that, for the first 50 years of his life, I didn't say anything about his military training, he didn't have any, and slaves weren't allowed to own weapons, it was a very dangerous thing if they did, so before 1791, he had zero military training, yet he rose to become a general in the French Republican Army, and he beat the British, the Spaniards, and laid the ground for the defeat of the French, someone with zero training, all of that, self learning.- [Questioner] I was interested in why this revolution, why the revolutions in enslaved territories were so rare? You spoke to that, about how the numbers were on their side, but that must have surely been common, that, in most slave territories, there were far more slaves than there were settlers. So maybe you can say a little bit more about why slave revolutions didn't tend to be successful?- Thank you. I went fairly quickly. Numbers, I think, is one of the factors. In Saint-Domingue, the disparity was perhaps greatest than anywhere else, it's just that Saint-Domingue had become so profitable by the late 18th century that the French just brought in masses of slaves, so they basically prepared the ground for the revolution. In no other slave society was there such a big disparity between the settlers and the slaves. But I think it's also to do with those other factors that I talked about, leadership, military training, and also, the one other factor that I didn't mention is that the Haitian Revolution is not the starting point of the resistance by the slaves of Saint-Domingue. From the mid 1740s, you have several instances of them revolting, and so this is, in a sense, the culmination of four or five decades of resistance by the slaves in Saint-Domingue, and that, I think, is also very relevant. They tried out various other forms of insurrection, and 1791 is the sort of culmination of it.- [Questioner] I wanted to know what you felt about Toussaint from a personal aspect, because you talk quite passionately about him, and his lifestyle, but on a personal level, how do you feel about him as a person, if that makes sense?- What do I feel personally about him? Having spent basically three years researching him and trying to get to know him as closely as I could, I feel, firstly, I suppose, admiration for all the things that he achieved, and if you compare him, there are many big revolutionary leaders who are emerging at this time, this is a period that is sometimes called the Age of Revolutions, you have revolutions in France, in America, in Latin America, Toussaint didn't have any of the advantages that even these great revolutionary leaders in other places had, that's why I think he and Haitian people are so special. This is someone who isn't born with any of these either material or educational advantages, so I think that makes him somebody quite remarkable, and that's the main feeling I have about him. I do sometimes find him frustrating because one of the things that he does try and do, systematically, is to be obscure, he tries to stop you from actually finding out exactly what he's thinking, and he's very good at that, so sometimes, I feel I don't know for sure. Did he want Saint-Domingue to be independent, for example? That's a question that historians, and indeed the people in Haiti, are still arguing passionately about to this day, we don't really know, because he never wrote down what he really thought about that. His basic line was, no, no, no, I don't want independence, I just want us to remain French and continue to benefit from this association with France, but maybe he did think, in the long run, Saint-Domingue would become independent, but he never actually said it.- [Questioner] Thank you. I'll finish with a teacher question from Mulberry School, just down the road, thank you very much for having us. I'm interested in why there's been an upsurge in interest in Toussaint Louverture over the last few years, and also how he's constructed in Western historiography in particular. Is he a sort of comfortable leader, i.e. the Martin Luther King of the story, and are there other stories that we're not so familiar with because they're perhaps not as comfortable?- Thank you, that's a great question. For a long time, people just didn't talk about the Haitian Revolution that much, it was just regarded as this kind of minor tremor, and then the big earthquakes were the French and the American revolutions. Now, we see that, actually, the Haitian Revolution was much more radical than both the French and the American revolutions, so I'd say, over the last 15 to 20 years, the Haitian Revolution is now taken seriously. And of course, the main reason it's taken seriously is that it was about slavery, and we're now, through our reexamination of our own colonial past in countries like Britain and France, or in the case of America, the history of its own very problematic relationship with slavery, we're now looking at these revolutions much more closely, and one the things that we're also finding is that the Haitian Revolution had a major impact on American politics too. The revolution in general, and Toussaint Louverture in particular, have benefited, I suppose, from this reconnection that we've now made, and I think it's a good thing, with our own colonial and slave histories. And there's another reason why I think Louverture and the Haitian Revolution are back in our horizon, and that's the issue of reparations. One of the very big questions that we're now talking about is, do we owe reparations to the people who were enslaved, to the countries that were enslaved? And this is a particularly acute question in Haiti because when the French left Haiti, they left physically, but 15, 20 years later, they basically blockaded the island and forced the independent Haitian Government to basically pay the French settlers, who had left the colony by then, to compensate them for the loss of their slaves. And that debt has been estimated, by a leading French economist, to amount to 30 billion euros in today's money. It took the Haitians 150 years, basically, to pay this debt. If you calculate the interest, it's even more. I don't have any problem calling this a crime, this was a crime against the Haitian people, and the French should pay. They don't want to, they don't even want to acknowledge that this is a debt that they should honor. So these are the kinds of conversations that we're now having, and Haiti and Louverture are very important not just for historical reasons, but because the impact of the things that were done in the 18th and 19th centuries are still continuing to be felt by peoples all over these formerly enslaved societies today.- Thank you so much, Sudhir, I'm afraid we are going to have to stop there, that was absolutely fascinating.(audience applauds)- Thank you.