By: Avneet Kang, Stratton Gilmore and Jennifer Camarena

Edited By: Susie Townsend

After the Congress of Vienna, Italy was split into several different independent governments. In 1815, Austria was received most of the country, while the rest of the country was turned into three separate nations. Italy consisted of, but was not limited to: The Papal States, Sicily, Piedmont, and Lombardy-Venetia. In the 18th century, liberal ideas from Britain and France spread rapidly across Europe, and they clashed with the conservative ideas of the Austrian monarchy, which led to the rise of nationalism, or pride in one’s country.


Starting in Palermo, Sicily, January 12, 1848, Sicilian nobles demanded for a democratic government from the rule of the local king, Ferdinand II. Initially resisting these changes, Ferdinand II was driven out of Italy by a full-fledged riot. This expulsion of the king and his men allowed the provisional government to be instituted. Revolts then started to erupt in Lombardy-Venetia, while Milanese and Venetian revolutionaries expelled the Austrian forces from Milan. However, they were soon to be defeated by the Austrians, and in the armistice conceded back the lands the revolutionaries took save Venice, which now had the republic of San Marco under the rule of Daniele Manin.

The main obstacle of Italian unification was the power of the Roman Catholic Church, which ruled a great part of the Italian peninsula, and the great diversity of independent states. So the Republican forces fomented a revolt against the pope, declaring the Republic of Rome in 1848, which upset the Pope because it would rob him of his authority as the head of state.

Fathers of Italy

“The Fathers of the Fatherland”

Giuseppe Mazzini, nicknamed The Beating Heart of Italy, was an Italian politician, journalist and activist for the unification of Italy. He founded a patriotic movement of young men and called it Giovine Italia (Young Italy). It was designed as a national association for liberating the separate Italian states from foreign rule and fusing them into a free and independent unitary republic. His methods were education and revolution. This was the first Italian democratic movement embracing all classes, for Mazzini believed that only a popular initiative could free Italy.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general and politician, was a great part in the Unification of Italy. Garibaldi came from a humble background; his family where fisherman in Nice. As a young boy he traveled to the South Americas where he fought many battles in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. This is where he started wearing his ionic red shirt (poncho), which became a symbol of his followers. Garibaldi moved back to Italy where he joined Carbonari revolutionary association and fought many battles, which conjure many lands for Italy.

Camillo di Cavour united Italy under the crown of Sardinia.  In fact, di Cavour used the concept of “Realpolitik,” the idea that politics must be conducted in terms of the realistic assessment of power and the self-interest of individual nation-states and not ownership by foreign nations. Cavour was a master politician, skillfully creating alliances with France when it benefited his cause and alternatively with Prussia, one of France’s enemies, when it aided his ability to unify Italy.  Cavour effectively used international power to advance his drive to create a unified Italy. While each region in what was to become Italy maintained both regional and local cultures that were supported by both nobility and peasant alike, Cavour uniquely understood that to create united Italy he would need to overcome local preferences.

Cavour’s efforts were significantly aided by the concepts of romanticism, socialism and the teachings of Karl Marx all of which effectively undermined the aristocracy and foreign powers that ruled the Italian states.  Once established, the new government undertook a number of projects to unify Italy.  They built the first national railroad system to physically link the different parts of the country, a national army to enforce government policies, and a common cause that began to overcome 1300 years of disunity.

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Map of Italy 1800

Material edited from previous post



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Before the 1870’s Europeans did not know much about Africa.  At this time only a small percentage of Africa, mainly along the coastal areas, was under the control of European countries.  One of the most ruthless rulers to tap the wealth of Africa was King Leopold II of Belgium who secured much of the Congo.  Leopold set up the International Association of the Congo which extracted the raw materials, rubber and ivory.  While claiming to improve the lives of the Congolese, the Belgian invaders were horribly inhumane towards the native people of Congo.  During this time, Germany, Portugal, Britain, and France followed Belgium’s lead by claiming land in central and southern Africa.  The European countries went into Africa to take the raw materials for their own enrichment but terribly mistreated the native people.  In 1884, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and French Premier Jules Ferry arranged for a conference on African affairs to be held in Berlin.  Fourteen nations sent delegates but not a single African leader was invited to come.  While the intent on the conference was to consolidate each nation’s control over African territory, the real effect was to start the “scramble for Africa.”  The Berlin conference started fighting over land in Africa.  Britain and France came close to going to war over the Nile River; France and Belgium over the Congo; and Britain and Germany in territory claims to southeast Africa.  The Dutch settlers, known as the Boers, and the British did start a war over South Africa.  Inevitably the rivalries between the various imperialist nations fighting over African territory would ultimately contribute to the start of World War I.

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An important novel of this period (and beyond) was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written in 1899. It offered an unblinking look at how the Europeans acted in the Congo. There is a lot of debate and controversy over this book, such as whether it is deeply racist and promotes Imperialist ideas or whether it is trying to get readers to cringe at and thus understand the cruelty of Imperialism. Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness shortly after witnessing the horrors of Imperialism in the Congo himself, so it is of the opinion of many scholars that this book does not encourage Imperialist ideas, but at worst wants to merely bring attention to the horrors and at best is a call to action against the West’s behavior.

Of course, there are a lot of other ideas as to what meaning Conrad was trying to get across with Heart of Darkness. One of the more interesting ones is that Conrad is trying to show readers what happens to a person when he is thrust into a world unfamiliar to him in every way and is forced, or urged. to do things he would never have before, much like a soldier in a war zone.

Since the text is in the public domain, you can find it below, read it, and decide for yourself what the meaning is.


Written by: Malin Serfis and Rachel Manning

*Image: A cartoon depiction of King Leopold’s hold on the Congo



Brantlinger, Patrick. “Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or 
     Impressionism?” Criticism 27.4 (1985): 363-85. Print. 

Frankforter, A. Daniel, and William M. Spellman. The West: A Narrative History. Third edition. Pearson Education, Inc., 624-626. Print.



Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, also known as Joseph Stalin was born on December 18th 1879 in Gori, Georgia, which was part of Russia during this time. While studying in seminary, Stalin was introduced to Marxist literature. Stalin later dropped out of seminary in order to devote his time to the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy. For fifteen years Stalin remained as activist, who was occasionally arrested and eventually exiled to Siberia. 

During Stalin’s exile, the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. However, Stalin was able to gradually climb the party’s ranks. In 1922, Stalin was able to use his position as general secretary to build up his base of support. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin outmaneuvered his rivals and named himself Lenin’s political heir. By late 1920 Stalin was able to establish himself as the dictator of the Soviet Union. 

Many of Stalin’s programs were successful, but at the cost of many lives. For example, Stalin forcibly enforced his collectivization of farms by sending the resistant farmers to labor camps known as gulags or executing them. Furthermore, during his program of rapid industrialization many of the workers were forced to work harder in order to meet their outrageous quotas. Also, during the Great Terror of 1930, Stalin purged those he deemed ‘the enemies of the people’ in his party by either sending them to gulags or executing them, just as he did with resistant farmers.  



Gregor Mendel

By on October 4, 2014 Leave a Comment

The theories of heredity attributed to Gregor Mendel, based on his work with pea plants, are well known to students of biology. But his work was so brilliant and unprecedented at the time it appeared that it took thirty-four years for the rest of the scientific community to catch up to it. The short monograph, Experiments with Plant Hybrids, in which Mendel described how traits were inherited, has become one of the most enduring and influential publications in the history of science.

Mendel, the first person to trace the characteristics of successive generations of a living thing, was not a world-renowned scientist of his day. Rather, he was an Augustinian monk who taught natural science to high school students. He was the second child of Anton and Rosine Mendel, farmers in Brunn, Moravia. Mendel’s brilliant performance at school as a youngster encouraged his family to support his pursuit of a higher education, but their resources were limited, so Mendel entered an Augustinian monastery, continuing his education and starting his teaching career.

Mendel’s attraction to research was based on his love of nature. He was not only interested in plants, but also in meteorology and theories of evolution. Mendel often wondered how plants obtained atypical characteristics. On one of his frequent walks around the monastery, he found an atypical variety of an ornamental plant. He took it and planted it next to the typical variety. He grew their progeny side by side to see if there would be any approximation of the traits passed on to the next generation. This experiment was “designed to support or to illustrate Lamarck’s views concerning the influence of environment upon plants.” He found that the plants’ respective offspring retained the essential traits of the parents, and therefore were not influenced by the environment. This simple test gave birth to the idea of heredity.

Mendel’s research reflected his personality. Once he crossed peas and mice of different varieties “for the fun of the thing,” and the phenomena of dominance and segregation “forced themselves upon notice.” He saw that the traits were inherited in certain numerical ratios. He then came up with the idea of dominance and segregation of genes and set out to test it in peas. It took seven years to cross and score the plants to the thousand to prove the laws of inheritance! From his studies, Mendel derived certain basic laws of heredity: hereditary factors do not combine, but are passed intact; each member of the parental generation transmits only half of its hereditary factors to each offspring (with certain factors “dominant” over others); and different offspring of the same parents receive different sets of hereditary factors. Mendel’s work became the foundation for modern genetics.

The impact of genetic theory is no longer questioned in anyone’s mind. Many diseases are known to be inherited, and pedigrees are typically traced to determine the probability of passing along an hereditary disease. Plants are now designed in laboratories to exhibit desired characteristics. The practical result of Mendel’s research is that it not only changed the way we perceive the world, but also the way we live in it.

By Walter McMichael

Edited by Rachel Manning

image source-


The 9th of November 1938, the Germans implemented the program of Kristallnacht. During Kristallnacht, any and all Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned down and looted. Alongside with having their religious temples burned and their businesses destroyed, many Jews were killed and some committed suicide. In the video below it is estimate that 155o temples were destroyed and 2500 Jews died that day, as well as 30000 Jews sent to concentration camps, and tens of thousands of shops were destroyed/looted. This event marked the full birth of the Socialist regime of Nazi Germany, which was the extermination of the Jewish race, also known as the holocaust. Many non-Jewish people who witnessed this destruction and humiliation did nothing but watched as sacred places were decimated, Jewish businesses were removed, Jewish families were torn apart, and innocent Jews throughout Nazi Germany were murdered. This apathy throughout Nazi Germany, was fuel to the next world war.


The Boxer Rebellion

By on September 8, 2014 Leave a Comment

The Boxer Rebellion took place in China in the summer of 1900, during the last breath of the last dynasty of China. Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi was in charge, and had to protect her dynasty from forces without and within. Japan, Great Britain, Russia, and others wanted to exploit China for its trade routes and merchandise. Christian missionaries wanted to convert China, and essentially demolish the Confucian and Buddhist traditions that had been going on for centuries. But it took a lot more than this for The Boxer Rebellion to come into being.

After losing two opium wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), and the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, China was prompted to befriend Russia, who promised to protect them from other nations. But, Russia had more in mind than just helping an ally or standing up to enemies. They took the friendship to their advantage and built a railroad, allowing easier trade between China and Russia.

Due to war debts and corruption, China faced an economic crisis in 1897. Severe unrest followed, in which German missionaries were killed by Chinese civilians. Germany demanded reparations and seized Kiaochow. Russia, seeing that someone else had made the first move, used the trade route they had established to take Port Arthur and Dairen. Soon, nearly all the powers of the world, save for Italy and the United States, were scrambling to get hold of parts of China.

The ruler during all this was Kwang Hsu. He had been doing some much-needed modernization of the Chinese military, economy, and government. He did this by changing the civil service examination system (among other things), thus changing what kind of people could take office. The mandarin class, the highest class in Chinese society at the time, did not like these changes because it went against their conservative agenda. The Mandarins got Dowager (Kwang Hsu’s aunt) to imprison him and take power. The advancements that Kwang Hsu had been making came to a halt.

By this time the people of China had had enough. Even though some citizens still awed at the technology of the west or listened to the Christian missionaries, many were suspicious of the foreigners and directed their anger at them. They created the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, or the Boxers, as the west dubbed them after seeing their advanced martial arts skills. The Boxers destroyed western symbols, such as railroads and missionaries. Everyone was outraged at the property destroyed and people killed, and implored Empress Dowager to act. At first, she said she would squash the rebellion. Soon, though, she and the rest of the Chinese government decided that the unrest was a good tool to convince other nations to get out of China. So, they allowed the rebellion to expand.

The leaders of the Boxer movement convinced poor, uneducated people that joining them and practicing their martial arts would make them impervious to bullets. To demonstrate, they would shoot a gun with only powder in it at each other, wowing the poor, uneducated people, giving them hope, and convincing them to join. Another way the Boxers expanded their message was to put banners written in Chinese around. These were effective because most of the foreigners could not read Chinese, and thus would not know to tear them down. These banners often said ridiculous things, for example, that the missionaries were murdering children, The uneducated Boxers would instantly take this as fact and commit horrendous acts of violence against the people mentioned.

It was not strictly the foreigners that suffered under the Boxers, though, The converts the missionaries had won came to be known as “secondary devils.” They were almost considered worse than the “primary devils,” since they had succumbed to the influences of the foreigners. Also, great anger was harbored against the western machines and the people who installed them. These machines, such as steamships, made it possible to do more work with fewer people, leaving huge numbers of unemployed. These unemployed were easy recruits for the Boxers, as were those who had  lost their farms due to a recent drought.

As the rebellion continued to expand, there began to be government officials that supported the Boxers, such as Yu Hsien. Even the Chinese Imperial Army, at the urging of Empress Dowager, began to assist the Boxers. Not long after this, the Empress fully allied herself and her dynasty with the Boxers.

The rebellion ended with the coming of the China Relief Expedition, headed by the Americans. But it was not an easy ending. But he Americans were able to cooperate with the Chinese and other foreigners. Troops marched into Peking, quieting the rebellion in a bloody manner finale.  After this, the last dynasty of China ended, and the United States began to rise as a major world military power.


Leonhard, Robert R., Ph.D. The Chinese Relief Expedition; Joint Coalition 
     Warfare in China Summer 1900. Laurel: Johns Hopkins University Applied 
     Physics Laboratory, 2014. PDF file. 


By on December 14, 2013 Comments Off


Rene Decartes

René Descartes was born was born on March 31, 1596, in La Haye, France. He was extensively educated, first at a Jesuit college at age 8, then earning a law degree at 22, but an influential teacher set him on a course to apply mathematics and logic to understanding the natural world. This approach incorporated the contemplation of the nature of existence and of knowledge itself, hence his most famous observation, “I think; therefore I am.”


Descartes is considered by many to be the father of modern philosophy, because his ideas departed widely from current understanding in the early 17th century, which was more feeling-based. While elements of his philosophy weren’t completely new, his approach to them was. Descartes believed in basically clearing everything off the table, all preconceived and inherited notions, and starting fresh, putting back one by one the things that were certain, which for him began with the statement “I exist.” From this sprang his most famous quote: “I think; therefore I am.”





Here’s a link to an explanation on his book, Discourse on Method. Its part 1 out 3


Law of the Maximum

By on December 10, 2013 Comments Off

Under the Committee of Public Safety, many new ideas came to be, such as the Cult of Reason, the new calendar, and the Law of the Maximum. The Law of the Maximum is, essentially, a price ceiling on consumer goods. It was put in effect to show that the government was concerned about the people and did more than commit executions.

Articles of the Law

1. The articles which the National Convention has deemed essential, and the maximum or highest price of which it has believed it should establish, are: fresh meat, salt meat and bacon, butter, sweet oil, cattle, salt fish, wine, brandy, vinegar, cider, beer, firewood, charcoal, coal, candles, lamp oil, salt, soda, sugar, honey, white paper, hides, iron, cast iron, lead, steel, copper, hemp, linens, woolens, stuffs, canvases, the raw materials which are used for fabrics, wooden shoes, shoes, turnips and rape, soap, potash, and tobacco. . . .

7. All persons who sell or purchase the merchandise specified in article 1 for more than the maximum price stated and posted in each department shall pay, jointly and severally, through the municipal police, a fine of double the value of the article sold, and payable to the informer; they shall be inscribed upon the list of suspected persons, and treated as such. The purchaser shall not be subject to the penalty provided above if he denounces the contravention of the seller; and every merchant shall be required to have a list bearing the maximum or highest price of his merchandise visible in his shop.

8. The maximum or highest figure for salaries, wages, manual labor, and days of labor in every place shall be established, dating from the publication of the present law until the month of September next, by the general councils of the communes, at the same rate as in 1790, plus one-half.

9. The municipalities may put in requisition and punish, according to circumstances, with three days’ imprisonment, workmen, manufacturers, and divers laborers who refuse, without legitimate grounds, to do their usual work. . . .

17. During the war, all exportation of essential merchandise or commodities is prohibited on all frontiers, under any name or commission whatsoever, with the exception of salt.


In 1793, France was still in a state of Revolution, and fighting with Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, and Spain.  The government continued to function during the economic crises through a series of loans, bonds and tax increases and increasingly larger amounts of paper money issuance in a vain attempt to stimulate the economy.  The state of the country was only worsened by food shortages, which resulted from bad harvest.  Though most of the blame rested on farmers, unwilling to sell their crops at market, below cost of production.  However, the shortages were more widely blamed on speculators, hoarders, and price gougers.

The General Maximum was written with an eye towards businessmen who were profiting from the demise of the French economy. However, in practice, the law targeted local shopkeepers, butchers, bakers and farmers—the merchants who were profiting the least from the economic crisis.With the General Maximum, the Convention offered the people someone to blame for their hunger and poverty. Furthermore, due to the Law of Suspects, when a citizen informed the government about a merchant who was in violation of the law, he had done his civic duty.



The French Revolution and Romanticism

By on December 10, 2013 Comments Off

There is little or no freedom of speech or expression in places that are ruled by oppressive tyrannical regimes. Such was the situation of France under the Monarchist dictatorship of the Catholic king called Louis XVI. The society was confined within the perimeters defined by the government with unfair laws and unequal distribution of resources. The living conditions of the people determined their state of mind which will always be a great influence on the nature of literature that is produced from that region.

In this divided society where the people were segmented into the nobles and clergy on one side and the working class on the other the literature of that time was quite restrained. All the literary material that is to be found is only focusing on the lives of the upper class namely the nobles and the clergy. This is because the common man was too busy working and was of much less importance to those who were writing at the time. The literature and art of that time seems to be representing only one side of the reality of France and that is the bright side for a select few, all this while the huge working class remained unnoticed.

French Revolution & Romanticism

When the spirit of the revolution caught the whole of the nation and turned things into a whole new direction then art and literature begun to take a new turn. The newly acquired freedom of the common people was not only brought about just laws and living but ordinary people also had the freedom to think for themselves and in turn the freedom to express themselves. Triggered by the revolutionary spirit the writers of the time were full of creative ideas and were waiting for a chance to unleash them. Under the new laws the writers and artists were given a considerable amount of freedom to express themselves which did well to pave the way to set a high standard for literature.

Roots of French Romanticism

In most of the dictionaries we find romanticism to be defined as a literary and cultural movement which took place in Europe in the 19th century. The credit of this movement goes to the imagination and creativity of those great Romantics who managed to express their inner feelings in a very profound and articulate literature. In itself the French revolution is seen to be the dividing event between the era that is described as the pre romanticism era with the Romanticism era having its roots in 1774 and coming to full form by the end of the 18th century which is the time that the French revolution was taking place.

Famous French Romantic Authors

Some of the authors from the Romantic Movement gained world recognition and many are held in high esteem even till today. Vigney is an author who is said to have played a major role in the development of the Romantic revolution with his play Chatterton in the 1820’s. The greatest poet of that time was Hugo who is considered to be one of a kind. There was Joseph de Maistre who was inspired to write under the impact of the great magnitude of the French revolution and many others who sought to take the new found freedom of expression in the positive direction of setting new standards for literature.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dam by Victor Hugo was a huge book in this time period. It was centered around the cathedral but also did a great job of pointing out social class differences between two people. This is a great representation of what has happened to France that caused such stress during the French Revolution. The main theme of the whole book is cultural revolution which is what is happening to France during the Romantic Era.

edited by Peyton Hughes

Slavery and the Haitian Revolution

By on December 9, 2013 Comments Off

Since the revolutionaries explicitly proclaimed liberty as their highest ideal, slavery was bound to come into question during the French Revolution.  Even before 1789 critics had attacked the slave trade and slavery in the colonies.  France had several colonies in the Caribbean in which slavery supported a plantation economy that produced sugar, coffee, and cotton.  The most important of these colonies was Saint Domingue (later Haiti), which had 452,000 slaves, 32,000 whites, and 28,000 free blacks (which included both blacks and mulattos).  The slaves in Saint-Domingue, made up almost half of the approximate 1,000,000 slaves present in the Caribbean at the time.  Some free blacks owned slaves; in fact, the free blacks owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves in Saint Domingue, though they could not hold public office or practice many professions (medicine, for example).

The slave system in the colonies was regulated by a series of royal edicts, the most important of which was promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685. Taken together, the edicts constituted the Code noir, or slave code. This code prescribed a harsh regime of penalties for slaves who resisted their captivity, especially if they tried to harm their masters in any way. Saint Domingue provided extraordinary sources of wealth to the French. To protect their investments, French slaveholders had to learn at least a minimal amount about their slaves. One of the most astute commentators, Médéric-Louis-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry, wrote a massive two-volume work on life in Saint Domingue in the 1780s. He described many of the features of slave life that worried slaveholders, including voodoo imported from Africa, the presence of many people of mixed race (mulattos), the threat of slaves becoming Maroons (runaways), and the intense fear among slaveholders that their slaves would try to poison them. After the French Revolution broke out, planters looked back on pre-1789 conditions, trying to understand how slavery might have been better organized. Their observations provide yet another contemporary perspective on the plantation and slave system.

Haitian Revolution

The Caribbean colonies were quick to respond to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. The white planters of Saint Domingue sent delegates to France to demand representation at the new National Assembly, as did the mulattos. Several prominent deputies in the National Assembly belonged to the Society of the Friends of Blacks, which put forth proposals for the abolition of the slave trade and the amelioration of the lot of slaves in the colonies. When these proposals fell on deaf ears, some deputies sympathetic to blacks turned to arguing that full civil and political rights should be granted to free blacks in the colonies. Before long, radical journalists in Paris began to take up the cause of black slaves, pushing for the abolition of slavery, or at least for a more positive view of the Africans. The pioneering feminist and playwright, Olympe de Gouges, also wrote a pamphlet challenging the colonial pro-slavery lobby to improve the lot of the blacks.

As the agitation in favor of granting rights to free blacks and abolishing the slave trade gathered steam, the colonies became filled with uncertainty and expectations began rising, especially among the free blacks and mulattos. In response, the white planters mounted their own counterattack and even contemplated demanding independence from France. Less is known about the views of the slaves because hardly any of them could read or write, but the royal governor of Saint Domingue expressed concern about the effects of the Revolution on the colony’s slaves. In October 1789 he reported that the slaves considered the new revolutionary cockade (a decoration made up of red, white, and blue ribbons worn by supporters of the Revolution) a “signal of the manumission of the whites . . . the blacks all share an idea that struck them spontaneously: that the white slaves kill their masters and now free they govern themselves and regain possession of the land.” In other words, the black slaves hoped to follow in the footsteps of their white predecessors, freeing themselves, killing their masters, and taking over the land.

Most deputies feared the effects of the loss of commerce that would result from either the abolition of slavery or the elimination of the slave trade. Fabulous wealth depended on slavery, as did shipbuilding, sugar-refining, and a host of subsidiary industries. Slaveowners and shippers did not intend to give up their prospects without a fight. The U.S. refusal to give up slavery or the slave trade provided added ammunition to support their position.

To quiet the unrest among the powerful white planters, especially in Saint Domingue, the colonial committee of the National Assembly proposed in March 1790 to exempt the colonies from the constitution and to prosecute anyone who attempted to spark uprisings against the slave system. But the steadily increasing agitation threatened the efforts of the National Assembly to mollify the white planters and keep a lid on racial tensions. The March 1790 decree said nothing about the political rights of free blacks, who continued to press their demands both in Paris and back home, but to no avail. In October 1790, 350 mulattos rebelled in Saint Domingue. French army troops cooperated with local planter militias to disperse and arrest them. In February 1791 the mulatto leaders, including James Ogé, were publicly executed. Nevertheless, on 15 May 1791, under renewed pressure from the abbé Grégoire and others, the National Assembly granted political rights to all free blacks and mulattos who were born of free mothers and fathers. Though this proviso limited rights to a few hundred free blacks, the white colonists furiously pledged to resist the application of the law.

Just a few months later, on 22 August 1791, the slaves of Saint Domingue rose up in rebellion, initiating what was to become over the next several years the first successful slave revolt in history. In response, the National Assembly rescinded the rights of free blacks and mulattos on 24 September 1791, prompting them once again to take up arms against the whites. Slaves burned down plantations, murdered their white masters, and even attacked the towns. Fighting continued as the new Legislative Assembly (it replaced the National Assembly in October 1791) considered free black rights again at the end of March 1792. On 28 March, the assembly voted to reinstate the political rights of free blacks and mulattos. Nothing was done about slavery.

In the fall of 1792, as the Revolution in mainland France began to radicalize, the French government sent two agents to Saint Domingue to take charge of the suppression of the slave revolt. In order to gain their freedom, rebel slaves now made pacts with the British and Spanish in the area. The British and Spanish promised freedom to those slaves who would join their armies, even though they had no intention of abolishing slavery in their own colonies. They simply wanted to benefit from France’s problems. Faced with the threat of both British and Spanish invasions aimed at taking over the colony with the aid of the rebel slaves, the French government agents abolished slavery in the colony (August–October 1793). Although the National Convention initially denounced this action as part of a conspiracy to aid Great Britain, the Convention eventually voted to abolish slavery in all the French colonies on 4 February 1794. Many mulattos opposed this move because they owned slaves themselves. After more than two years of rebellion, invasion, attack, and counterattack, the economy of Saint Domingue had nearly collapsed. Thousands of whites fled to the United States or back to France.

For all the deputies’ good intentions, the situation remained confused in almost all the colonies: some local authorities simply disregarded the decree, others converted slavery into forced labor, others were too busy fighting the British and Spanish to decide one way or the other. Out of the fighting emerged one of the most remarkable figures of the era, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a slave who learned to read and write and in the uprising rose to become the leading general of the slave rebels. Toussaint faced incredible obstacles in creating a coherent resistance. By 1800 the plantations were producing only one-fifth of what they had in 1789. In the zones controlled by Toussaint, army officers or officials took over the big estates and kept the former slaves working under military-style discipline. In 1802, once he had consolidated his hold on power in mainland France, Napoleon Bonaparte reestablished slavery and the slave trade in those colonies still under French control and denied political rights to free blacks. He sent a major expeditionary force to Saint Domingue to enforce his will. It captured Toussaint and sent him back to France, where he died in prison. Nevertheless, the former slaves continued their revolt and in 1804 they established the independent republic of Haiti. The French army limped home after losing thousands to disease and sporadic fighting. A slave rebellion had succeeded.

Americans in the new United States followed the events in Saint Domingue with anxious interest. Since the southern states relied on thousands of slaves to work their plantations, a slave revolt in the world’s richest plantation colony was bound to excite their concern. In addition, when white settlers began fleeing Saint Domingue, many of them came to the United States. Newspapers in the United States published letters offering eyewitness accounts (and rumors) about the uprising. The accounts in thePennsylvania Gazette are excerpted here.

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(Edited From a Previous Post)


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